Born in a Sino-Thai family from Lampang, Kitikong Tilokwattanotai, founder and director of C.A.P. Studio (Chiang Mai Art on Paper Studio), has found beauty in abstracting words and feelings into his graphic works and paintings. Currently based in Chiang Mai, his works range from printmaking and painting, to collages, ceramics, and mixed media.
“I liked art since I was young, without knowing it,” he recalls. “I drew, scribbled, and sketched all over, including the house walls and notebooks.”
Kitikong studied fine arts at Chiang Mai University, eventually majoring in printmaking. “Back then I only knew drawing. I had to learn oil painting, watercolours, sculpture, printmaking, and art installation through fundamental art courses. I realized that I enjoyed and had fun making prints. We experimented—trials and error—and it was exciting to speculate how the prints would turn out. When chemical reactions and procedures yield unexpected yet interesting results, these are called ‘happy accidents’.”
With his uncle’s help, Kitikong furthered his studies with a Master of Art (Printmaking) course at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales (Australia). But there was a big learning curve ahead.
“I learned a lot and became more courageous,” he notes. “I used to be introverted. I only studied, worked in the studio and library, and hung out with close friends. Suddenly I had to be more independent and mature; had to solve my own problems and learn to communicate in an unfamiliar language, English.
“I frequented museums, and the galleries in Paddington. I was inspired by the environment there and that formed my style. I don’t have a ‘Thai style,’ but a combination of Chinese and Western styles.”
For his finals his supervisor, Prof. Michael Kempson, challenged him to switch from realistic and figurative to the abstract genre. “I had to create something that I hadn’t done before… abstract works, and I had only two weeks,” he points out. “To people without true knowledge of art, abstraction seems like child’s play with squiggles, strokes, and lines. People often say that these works can be easily made. But I had to reflect and think hard, so I read a lot and found out—from novels and letters from friends—that written words can transpire feelings. Texts and alphabets can run a gamut of emotions which express some kinds of universal language. From the words’ and letter’s lines and curves, people can universally understand each other too. So I changed rapidly from figurative to abstract works. Already being good at various processes, I easily adapted my style. My works became exemplary for other students and earned the highest marks ever.”
Since Kitikong’s return to Thailand, his work, style, and subjects have evolved, as seen in his solo and group exhibitions. They become not only graphic representations or calligraphic abstraction, but also expressions of his visions and identities.
“My abstract works have changed since then because I’ve learned to understand myself more. Abstract art isn’t just about personal feelings but universal feelings. Universality can be discussed. We don’t communicate by using languages all the time but through gestures and emotions, like tone of voice. My works try to express love, stress, relaxation, confusion, and so on within the rhythm of life and its vicissitudes. There’s more depth in the meaning of the artworks than the aesthetics, like moods and tones can give a lot of meaning without saying a word.”
Kitikong also admires and is influenced by several renowned abstract artists, such as Thaiwijit Peungkasemsomboon, Gade Chawanalikikorn, Somyot Hananuntasuk, Antoni Tàpies, Jasper Johns, and Joan Miró.
“Jasper Johns used symbols that became abstract. He created forms that people are familiar with, like numbers. Miró’s interpretations and influences from Chinese and Japanese calligraphy can be compared to mine, an Asian and Western combination. I love Tàpies’ works because they are very profound and strongly express his emotions and actions.”
In 2003 Kitikong established C.A.P. Studio, an invitational custom printing studio and gallery which collaborates with Thai and international artists in the production of print works, and founded Jojo Kobe gallery and shop in 2014.
“I love and am proud of printmaking,” he adds. “I want others to appreciate it too but I want it to grow gradually. I want to educate students, artists, audiences, and collectors about the international standards in both processes and management. I’m afraid that printing will be gone one day because it requires a lot of dedication, and patience. It isn’t as popular as painting. To make it can cost more too because of the equipment and techniques. Most people want the uniqueness of paintings and don’t understand about multiple originals and editions of prints. My vision is to see Chiang Mai as the centre of printmaking in Thailand, and even in Southeast Asia. There are many private printing studios here and with unity among the artists, we can achieve it.”