Author Archives: Adam Bryan-Brown

Wenceslaus Hollar is alive and well?


Wenceslaus Hollar, one of the most famous of 17th century printmakers, died in 1677. His work, while brilliant and vast, could hardly be interpreted as contemporary. Yet it is the very same Hollar who has inspired a young Thai artist, Praphan Rakarin, to produce a daring, complex, enormous, imaginative, passionate and highly original painting. The painting is called London 1, a plain name for an anything but plain piece of work.


Wenceslaus Hollar was born in Prague in 1607. Over the course of his long life he meandered across Europe, including two spells in England, both before and then after the English Civil War.

Printmaking was its peak of popularity in the 17th century and Hollar an acknowledged master. His output was prolific, more than 2,700 etchings covering a vast range of subjects.

He is perhaps mosts famous for his maps. The map to the right is one of his best works — London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666.

The plain white area in the center of the map represents the area of London destroyed by the fire. Hollar convincingly conveys the enormous scale of destruction.


Here you see an excerpt of another Hollar print, detailing London both before and after the fire.The detail is exceptionally fine.

In both prints, the River Thames is used as the anchoring viewpoint.

Hollar combines an excellent eye for detail with magnificent technical skills. His work remains celebrated and very collectable.


Let’s turn now to Praphan Rakarin, or Tom as he is better known.

I wrote about Tom not long ago, in “Praphan Rakarin: a monochromed Turner?

There I discussed the different influences on Tom’s work, especially that of J.W. Turner. On the right, you see one of his London series. The technical skill of the Houses of Parliament — very Turner-esque in my opinion — is matched by the wonderful shading and tones of the monochrome spectrum.

The detail of the Parliament has certain echoes of Hollar for sure, but there is little obvious resemblance.


If you look at this Hollar print you see that his style, typical of the period, was much more architectural and precise than anything that Tom has produced.

In fact you only really capture the influence of Hollar in one of Tom’s paintings, named London 1.

It is a plain title for what is an anything but plain painting.

Painted in 2005, shortly after Tom arrived in London, it is the masterpiece of the London series.

It is a vast work — 2.5 meters wide and 1.5 meters high. It’s scale is such that it almost overwhelms you.


Here it is. I first saw it in Tom’s studio, where he also lives.

It is an area of Bangkok known by local residents as Ghost City. It consists of numberless residential towers, abandoned and left empty in the aftermath of the 1998 Asian economic crisis.

Slowly people are beginning to move back there but the name Ghost City is apt. It is an eerie, rather soulless place. The quiet is disturbing amidst the normal Bangkok background of noise, pollution and chaos.


I walked into Tom’s appartment to be confronted with canvas upon canvas, stacked anywhere and everywhere. Reaching the living area was like scaling a mountain peak.

In the kitchen there was no food at all, just water, coffee, wine, beer and bottle upon bottle of whisky, each opened, some empty, some half full. Ashtrays are everywhere, overflowing with cigarette butts.

Sit anywhere and you are likely to find black ink on your clothes. In many ways it is a typical artist’s studio!

I wandered into the bedroom which is surprisingly neat. There was just one painting there, London 1, hung in the center of the wall, the first thing he sees when he wakes each day.

I looked at it, issued an expletive and just stared and stared and stared.

You know, even without knowing, that this is the work that Tom is most proud of and you can feel the love and emotion that has gone into it.


It was when Tom began to show me books of Hollar’s work that I understand the genesis of the painting, which is the set of maps that I showed at the beginning of this post.

Incredibly, he has gone back to Hollar’s and reinterpreted them into the modern day London skyline.

You have Battersea Power Station at the far left, all the way past London Bridge, to the “new” St. Paul’s of Christopher Wren, the Post Office Tower and Canary Wharf at the far right.

As with Hollar, the anchorpoint is the river, though Tom’s perspective is more interesting. As with Hollar you find incredible detail all over the painting.

It is an almost unbelievable piece of work. I can think of nothing else like it, other than Hollar. The monochromatic effect is magnificent. You just know that it would not work in color.

The shades and tones capture the mood of the city and the immensity of the river. London Bridge as a centerpoint provides an unusual but very effective perspective.

As I look at it I imagine the artist walking the streets of London, often in the rain, mainly in the gray, always in the cold. I imagine him sitting on the South Bank gazing across the river, his eyes tracing the arc from Battersea to Canary Wharf.

I see him studying in the libraries and galleries of the city, sketching manically day-after-day, conceiving the idea, planning the work and then slowly beginning to put it all together.

I see him working in his tiny London bedsit, paints and inks everwhere, the canvas almost the length of the wall, sleeping almost never, just painting, painting, painting.

It is, of course, a summary of all the 26 pictures of the London series but it is also much more than that. It is a testament to vision, skill, imagination, daring and idiosyncracy.

It is an immense work for one so young. A photograph does it an injustice. This is a painting that has to be seen to be believed.

Valentine, Oh Valentine, wherefore art my Valentine?


With apologies to Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, and making no excuses for my appalling play on the word “art”, I present a selection of “love art” from some of my favorite artists, as a celebration of Valentine’s Day. Though not what I would call a great romantic I have, like many, spent much of my life searching for, celebrating and lamenting love. Not all of us are fortunate in love. On this day let’s not forget those who are alone and let them not forget that we are with them.


Yes this is a marginally unconventional start for an ode to love!

The artist, perhaps surprisingly, is Vincent van Gogh and it is titled, very simply, as “Man and Woman Making Love”.

Notionally about sex I personally see this drawing much more as about love.

Distinctions are often made between “having sex” and “making love”, something that becomes more understandable as we age.

van Gogh, for me, captures emotion, passion but, most of all, togetherness.

By setting the scene within nature he also presents love as a state of nature, not limited to humanity.


The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese [chose] his make [mate].

This poem was written to honor the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. (When they were married eight months later, he was 13 or 14. She was 14.)

The Bible provides many moving passages about love.


1 Corinthians 13:1-8a and 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In fact, Corinthians is a constant source of inspiration for love.

I Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Read the following by Truman Capote:

The true beloveds of this world are in their lover’s eyes lilacs opening, ship lights, school bells, a landscape, remembered conversations, friends, a child’s Sunday, lost voices, one’s favorite suit, autumn and all seasons, memory, yes, it being the earth and water of existence, memory.

Beautiful words written by someone who was anything but a beautiful person.


Love has inspired and destroyed the greatest of greats. It levels man and woman alike. It is indiscriminate. It is sought.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:

Hatred ever kills, love never dies. Such is the vast difference between the two. What is obtained by love is retained for all time. What is obtained by hatred proves a burden in reality for it increases hatred.

Jimi Hendrix perhaps echoed those thoughts when saying:

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.

Even Albert Einstein had something to say.

How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?


Einstein had a point. I remember too well falling in love for the first time at 18. It was a huge, emotional, unrequited love. Death seemed too simple a solution. I could imagine no future at all and it was years before I overcame the disappointment.

Now, of course, those moments seem not only distant but ridiculous. What did I know of life? What did I know of love? What did I know of anything? The answer, of course, was nothing.

Even now, years later, I wonder often what do I really know of love?


Well let’s be frank, I am not the only one who fails to understand love. The picture on the right is an installation by Damien Hirst, titled “Lost Love”.

I have tried, I have really tried, but I just don’t get it. Admittedly, Hirst has never been my favorite artist, striking me as more a Daliesque showman than a serious artist. I sense some symbol of the oceans reclaiming land, perhaps meaning the triumph of death over life and, by consequence, love.

George Sand once said that, “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.”

Perhaps he was right. As children we have the absolute security of parental love. It makes us warm. We know with certainty that it will never die.

And we love in return, an absolute and unconditional love borne of innocence.

As we age and mature our innocence retreats and we seek a different love. Sometimes we succeed. All too often we fail.


Perhaps we fail because we seek to recapture the innocence of childish love, that perfect thing which is perfect only because we are unable to comprehend it.

Yet, in truth, I prefer to think of love as Shakespeare did:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Beautiful words that inspire and give hope.

Not all of us can find the love we seek. For many more love is brief and unenduring.

Valentine’s Day can be as much about unhappiness as it is about love. A time to reflect on failed or failing relationships. A time perhaps to question our sense of worth.

Yet perhaps I can take you back to the Corinthians: Love never fails….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Each of us needs to keep faith in ourselves. Without self-worth we have nothing. Each of us must retain hope that we will find what we are looking. Without hope there is only despair.

If we maintain faith and hope then we can truly find love.

It is also important to remember that Valentine Day is about the love of a man and woman rather than love itself.

Go back to the words of Gandhi and Hendrix to understand how important love is to humanity. I think the Dhali Lama sums it up well.

When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.

In closing I thought long and hard about including a Thai artist’s work on love. My choices are probably controversial.

The work is titled “Valentine” by a young artist called Warawut Intorn. It is a self portrait of the artist and his wife.

Some might think it grotesque. Others could think of it as simply obscene. The long fingernails and wolf-like feet perhaps convey an impression of animal lust, a mad coupling rather than erotic love.

I see it differently. I focus on the coupling which, for me, expresses togetherness and tenderness. I look at the hair and faces which are essentially mirrors of each other and, I think of union. The union of man and woman.

It is I think a celebration rather derogation of love.

And it is also, in a sense, reminiscent of the van Gogh drawing. Let’s not deny the connection between love and sex, while accepting that the two are not the same.

My final choice is also controversial, but for different reasons.


Titled “I Cry”, by Nantana Phonak, this work could hardly be called a celebration of love.

It represents the artist’s pain as she adjusts to a failed relationship. The tears of hearts could be seen to be the shedding of faith and hope, without which we cannot have love.

Yet there is a beauty to this painting. Partly it is the rich, golden red hair, which simply inspires me, but there is also a serenity of expression in the face that gives me a sense of calm.

I feel that Nantana’s shedding tears are more a farewell to a past love than the loss of faith of hope. They are also of course a reminder that love is always fragile.

Happy Valentine to you all. Remember that almost all of us have someone who loves and cares for us, whether it be parent, child, friend or lover.

For me I smile always this day as I think of the three great loves of my life, my daughters and my son. I love you all with all my heart.

Is it ok to trash Thaksin now?


Nearly five months after his removal from power the spectre of former Prime Minister Thaksin remains, sadly, front of mind. His rather absurd attempts to portray himself as the “great democrat” to the world’s media are almost as pathetic as those same media’s willingness to listen to him. In welcoming a new artist, Prasart Nirandonprasert, to artThailand, we also have an opportunity to celebrate Artists for Democracy, a small but important anti-Thaksin pressure group that participated in the pro-democracy protests of 2006.


Prasart Nirandonprasert was born in 1968, in Khon Khaen, which is in the north of Thailand.

Trained initially as an architect, Prasart is today better known as a painter and sculptor.

His current medium of choice is woodcut prints. He is the first woodcut artist that we have worked with.

Most of his prints are limited editions of between two and five pieces. At an average price of 7,500 baht they represent a very cheap means of owning some interesting and beautiful Thai contemporary art.

The woodcuts are exquisitely sculpted from raw wood. Prasart then mixes a wide variety of inks to produce bold and interesting colors.

Like many Thai artists, Prasart’s inspiration are drawn from Buddhism.

As he puts it himself, “The living of life is to find truth”.

Personally I like Prasart’s work. It’s simple, technically skilled, with imaginative use of color and imagery.


However, as some of you know, I am personally drawn to art that carries political and/or social messages.

It has always interested me that some of the most powerful art and literature has thrived in times and places of adversity.

For me the most obvious example would be the Nazi Degenerate Art movement.

In 1937, Nazi officials purged German museums of works the Party considered to be degenerate. From the thousands of works removed, 650 were chosen for a special exhibit of Entartete Kunst.

The exhibit opened in Munich and then traveled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria.

In each installation, the works were poorly hung and surrounded by graffiti and hand written labels mocking the artists and their creations.

Many of the artists included in the Entartete Kunst exhibition are now considered masters of the twentieth century. They include Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Edvard Munch, Paul Klee, Ernst Kirchner and Emil Nolde.


Now Thailand is not the Germany of the 1930s but we have been through several years of political struggle, a struggle that will likely continue for some time yet.

What interests me most about Prasart is the role he played in the Artists for Democracy movement of 2006 and the anti-Thaksin woodcuts he produced at that time.

In the print above, Thaksin’s face lies in the background. He “Betrayed his mother land….”.

To the right is Thaksinipatri or, literally, “Thaksin is democracy”. As Prasart puts it, Thaksin installed his own people into all key positions and removed anyone who disagreed with him.

Artists for Democracy was a small collective of Thai artists that participated in the anti-Thaksin protests of 2006. Prasat himself went to many of the protests and, together with his colleagues, produced a number of prints in criticism of the then Prime Minister.

The name “Artists for Democracy” is interesting in itself. If you read recent editions of The Economist or Time you get the impression that Thaksin, a “great democrat”, was removed from power by an anti-democratic military dictatorship.

Yes, Thaksin and his party were democratically elected but his abuse of power and of the 1997 constitution are comparable to the actions of President Chavez of Venuezela. Democratically elected maybe, but no democrat for sure.


The title of this print is Poo Nam Pee 2548 or “Leader of the year, 2005”. In Prasart’s words, “he is a god and no one can touch him”.

Artists for Democracy reminds us that the struggles of 2006 were about Mr. Thaksin, not about democracy. They remind us that whetever the future for Thailand, it needs to be a democratic future, but a democracy that is real rather than a sham.

Prasart’s political activism and his expression of that activism in his prints is fascinating to me. His work becomes almost cartoon-like, in the tradition of some of the very best political cartoonists.

Another day, another exhibition…


One of the benefits of having people work for me is that I can send them to many exhibitions, while I concentrate on the important stuff, like cropping artwork in Photoshop. Yesterday, my colleagues Boum and Jib, went to Number 1 Gallery to see Retrospective, by Alongkorn Lauwatthana.

Alongkorn was born in 1964 in Thailand.

Educated at Silpakorn University, he has exhibited widely in Thailand, as well as in countries such as Korea, Denmark and India.

The title of the exhibition, Retrospective, gives me a slight sensation of a Greatest Hits album by the Rolling Stones.

It’s a reasonable conclusion as the work on show ranges from 1980 to 2007.

The painting on the left was started in 1995 but completed only this year and it is somewhat emblematic of the development of Alongkorn’s style.

I think it would be fair to say that he has always painted vivid, Buddhist influenced imagery, but the style has changed considerably over the years.


This work comes from 1996 and is representative of work the artist was creating in the middle to late 1990s.

The medium is acrylic and gold leaf on canvas and I quite like it.

I am not known as a big fan of Buddhist related art but Alongkorn is very skilled at it.

I like the fact that he is willing to experiment and test the edges of his art.

I like that he is not constrained by the Buddhist influence, using it as inspiration rather than limitation.

I also like way his style has developed over the years, though my favorite period would be the work he created between 1998 and 2001.


Retropsective runs until March 1, 2007 at Number 1 Gallery in Silom. It’s worth a visit.

You can find more details at the gallery website, Number 1.

You can also find more pictures from the exhibition on the artThailand website, at Retrospective.

Losing my way……


Monday of this week we shipped off to Silpakorn University to see a new solo exhibition by Tintin Couper. Clearly I don’t know Tintin’s work well because somehow we ended up at a completely different exhibition, the Silpa Bhirasri Creativity Grants 2006. For those who don’t know, Silpa Bhirasri is the Thai name of Corrado Feroci, the Italian born father of Thai modern art. With respect, I hope he is spinning in his grave about the “crap” on show.


Don’t ask how we ended up in the wrong place! The Tintin invitation looked interesting and I was quite enthusiastic about covering it.

But I guess we were on autopilot when we arrived at Silpakorn. It had already been a long day.

There are five galleries there and somehow we just wandered into the wrong place!

What we saw made me feel depressed and honestly questioning whether there is any point to promoting Thai contemporary art.

Let’s cover a few basics first.


Corrado Feroci was an Italian sculptor, invited to Thailand by Rama VI in 1923 to teach modern sculpture.

He remained in Thailand for the rest of his life, founded Silpakorn University and is regarded as the leading influence on Thai modern and contemporary art.

He died in 1962 but continues to be revered by the Thai art establishment.

The Silpa Bhirasri Creativity Grants were first awarded in 2001. The grants are given to between five and seven artists, “who have superior and different capacities in continuous artwork creation”.

The quote is from the forward to the 2006 grants directory. The forward goes on to say that “the main purpose of this fund is to sincerely encourage all artists having more self-confidence in an art creation….”.

Well great. I love the fact that money is being channelled into creative art. Sorry, what I really mean is that I love the principle of money being channelled into creative art.

The problem is that the grants mostly appear to be given to art that has almost nothing to do with creativity. Yet again we see a huge bias against genuinely innovative contemporary art and towards contemporary renditions of traditional Buddhist and peasant culture.

Let’s deal with a few disclaimers before making any more negative comments.

First, I have ranted on this subject before, notably in Young Artists Awards. Any comments I make are mine and mine alone.

Second, I do accept that many Thai people like and admire traditional Buddhist and peasant art, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Third, as I made clear in Is Censorship Right? my real argument is less with Thai artists, more with the Thai political and cultural elites.

So what is my argument?


Awards and grants are a very important source of funding for working artists. Thailand invests relatively little in cultural arts, so any sponsorship has got to be good.

The problem, as I see it, is that these “competitions” are judged by the established elites. There is nothing inherently wrong in this, except that those elites tend to be very partisan towards traditional media and styles, basically meaning painting, sculpture and Buddhist/peasant themes.

There are thousands of hugely creative and talented contemporary Thai artists doing some wonderful work. Some of that work is Buddhist and/or peasant related. Most of it is not. How depressing it must be for the majority of artists to see almost all funding going to “traditional contemporary art” (that phrase might be a self-contradiction).

I also note that the average age of the 2006 grantees is almost 40 and that they are all male. Are there really no women and no young artists below the age of 30 deserving of funding?

One could argue that it is the responsibility of artists themselves, together with gallery owners, to do more to promote Thai contemporary art, and I would not disagree.

However, it is not easy to promote anything when you have almost no support within the establishment and where the very art schools that should be working to promote innovation remain largely reliant on the skills and philosophy of a man who has been dead for over 40 years.

It’s interesting to make a comparison with contemporary art from the Philippines, much of which is also rooted in religion (mostly Catholic of course) and peasantry. Somehow, Filipino artists manage to create much fresher work than the majority of their Thai contemporaries.

My suspicion is that, were he alive today, Silpa Bharisri would be looking at contemporary art from all over the world and concluding that the Thai arts system remains captured in the 1950s and in urgent need of an overhaul.


I don’t deny that my commentary is harsh, maybe even unfair. There is plenty of very high quality work based on Thai traditional culture.

I happen to find it not especially interesting, that is my bias and many will not agree.

Yet I look at some of the younger talent in this country, struggling to make enough money to eat, and I sometimes despair.

There is a very talented artist that I know who works out of the JJ Market. His work sells for about 10,000 baht a piece. He paints about five new works a week, all based around the same theme.

Two years ago, this theme was interesting. 500 or so paintings later it’s getting a little tired, but as he says himself, he has almost no time to think and to create new ideas. He needs to sell and eat.

The issue is not just one of funding, though a better funded Thai cultural arts program would be welcomed by most.

The issue is mostly about attitude.

With the elites determined to preserve Thai traditional culture almost to the exclusion of contemporary art it is extremely difficult for emerging talent to get the recognition needed to establish reputations and sell work.

Thailand, today, is almost absent from the contemporary art world map. “Who cares?” you might say. I do, for one, and many others too.

In “Losing my way….” on Monday night I was reminded once again how hard a battle we fight to promote what is genuinely a wonderful variety of highly talented Thai contemporary artists.