Since completing her first set of paintings at Silpakorn University back in 2005, Lampu Kansanoh has become a darling of the local scene.
A multiple winner of domestic and international art prizes, including the 2008 Toshiba Art
Competition, this fresh-faced 28-year-old’s work defied the art market’s downward spiral during the global economic slump. She experienced strong advance sales for Nonsense: Nononsense, her debut solo exhibition at Ardel Gallery of Modern Art back in 2009 and this has been repeated in her subsequent ones, Bitter Sweet and Love Untitled. Today her work draws invitations from abroad; collectors hunt her down.
What’s her appeal? Her bright, cheery oil on canvases don’t just depict happiness, they also spread it. No one else captures the happy-go-lucky nature of the Thai quite like her. In her works the carefree and joyful expressions of her characters are exuberantly intensified by their exaggerated features:their melon-sized heads, engorged cheeks and exposed teeth. The results are hard not to smile or even laugh back at.
Reviewing Nonsense: No-nonsense back in 2009, Steven Pettifor, editor of Bangkok 101’s sister publication the Bangkok Art Map, picked up on this: Kansanoh’s acute ability to caricature and endearing, largely innocent, sense of humour. “Centered upon intimate scenes that focus on a specific incident or gathering,” he wrote, “she delivers deliberately overstated dramas with the hammed-up intensity of a trashy Thai television soap opera.”
He also noted that while the Thai soap opera is usually fixated on the upper classes, or hi so, the theatrical narrative found in Kansanoh’s work palpably isn’t. “Within the realms of the ordinary, the artist largely focuses her gaze on Thailand’s working class,” he writes. “Often looked down upon or belittled by Thailand’s urban elite, it is the forthright sincerity and emotional openness of this strata that enables Lampu to capture such honest expressions.”
For Kansanoh, an idealistic artist sensitive to the changing face of modern Thailand, the lower classes are also interesting because they have one thing the rich lack. “Thai society cares so much about social status,” she says, “but the truth is that people with a simple life are often happier with what they have. The story of Thailand’s working classes is interesting to me because instead of chasing happiness it’s within them.”
Paintings such as Yummy, in which an old couple sits chatting and enjoying dessert in their own store, or Splash Splatter!, where a man and women on a motorbike are doused during Thailand’s New Year festival, their eyes squeezed shut, their mouths agape in laughter, are typical in their depictions of simple people who are content with their situations. “The scenes appear ordinary,” says Kansanoh. “But they are about living a simple life, similar to the King’s sufficiency philosophy. It’s not about the poverty; it’s about Dharma, the teachings of Lord Buddha, and being happy with what we have.”
Back in 2009 Kansanoh, who hails from Samut Songkram province just south of the Thai capital and lists Thai national artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit as one of her main inspirations, was one of only two Thai artists (the other being Navin Rawanchaikul) invited to show their works at the 4th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, a prestigious event held at the highly esteemed Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Currently her relationship with this highly regarded Japanese institution is continuing with a three month residency and exhibition, so clearly her work has international appeal.
As for what she’s got coming here in Bangkok, look out for a group exhibition, Reading Europe, starting at Srinakarin University’s G23 on October 4. She also has a new exhibition at Ardel Gallery penciled in for September 2013. And, if you can’t wait that long, you can find her works brightening up the walls at the Thai Trends exhibition over at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), and at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) out in the northern suburbs.