These past few weeks the rainy season has become intensified with floodings in various places in Bangkok and several provinces. So, I seized the opportunity of a bright sunny day to visit the old part of Bangkok. I haven’t been waking around that area for almost a year. It’s time to check out changes and tourists attractions around there. My plan for a long walk was suddenly changed when I saw that the oldest Art School had an exhibition. The Fine Art Department building use to be the Palace of King Rama I’s brother. This old palace was just opposite the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The main entrance of the old Palace (now Fine Art University)
Looking out to the main entrance from the old Palace building.
The last time I saw an exhibition in this old Palace was years ago and the old wooden buildings were under renovation and repair for several years. So, I was very curious to see the exhibition and the old Palace. It was late afternoon and the road was scarce of people, the security guard asked me where I was going. I pointed towards to exhibition so he let me walked on. The whole place seemed very still and quiet; they have added a modern coffee shop and a new shop selling souvenir on the right of the court yard. The old wooden building looked very new with clean white colour and typical green colour of period buildings in the old days.
The last time I visited the exhibition of oil paintings by final year’ art students and their teachers, the old building was in a bad state of repair with creaky wooden floor and lopsided walls. The whole building was leaning to one side. Perhaps the wooden poles were deteriorating due to humid weather. That building or big house had never been renovated since the Palace was designated as the first Find Art University in Siam. I could recall that there were less than ten visitors walking around the creaky hall. Those colorful and crazy abstract oil paintings were very creepy which went very well with strange atmosphere inside the hallway.
I felt as if someone was following me inside. There were jasmine garlands placed at various places and corners of the room; someone had been paying respect to the guardian spirits in this Palace. Those paintings reminded me of paintings I saw in the Tate Gallery and National Gallery in England. I never expected Thai artists to paint like Western Impressionist painters. We had become quite Westernised during the past fifty years.
The new exhibition at the Palace was a solo work by a famous and well known artist: Tawatchai Puntisawasdi. He has been invited to display his work overseas; I hadn’t been to art exhibitions for ages as I was still stuck in the world prior to Post Modernism. Those were the golden days of amazing art exhibitions all over Bangkok art colleges and art galleries. Those days were gone and the old masters passed away leaving their fine work in private collections. The exhibition at the newly renovated Palace was named: Existence of Void. This raised my curiosity and expectations.
I was the only visitor in the whole building; I was given a brochure and advised to start on the second. The whole building had changed completely. The old partitions of small rooms were gone. The whole building had been transformed into big hall like a big art gallery with open space. The wooden floor was nicely polished with no creaky noises while the wall was painted all white. Old ornaments and lights on the walls were gone. The atmosphere of an old house had disappeared; I thought to myself whether some old spirits were still living there. There was no hint of invisible being upstairs so I was quite disappointed.
Within five minute, a volunteer guide came to see me and offer a guided tour. He told me that the plandemics had closed the whole place for three years resulting in many artists having no place to share the results of their effort. This artist became idle and decided to learn meditation seriously. He went to far away temple to learn meditation with learned monks. This exhibition was his effort to convey his experience from months of meditation. He had reached the trance state of meditation, we called these different levels as ‘chana’. There are eight major levels of ‘chana’.
From the description of the guide, it seemed the artist had achieved the fourth ‘chana’. He was overwhelmed by the sensation and his discovery during his meditation. He felt that his body had disappeared; he saw his own body becoming transparent and just disappeared like air. So, he realised that he was nothing, his body was an illusion. Sometimes he saw his body expanded bigger and bigger like a transparent balloon getting bigger with emptiness inside the body. He realised the Buddha’s teaching on nothingness and illusion. The body was just an illusion created by the mind.
I did ask several questions on the progress and further stages of the artist’s meditation. I really wanted to know more details about his meditation experiences and whether he persevered to a higher level of ‘chana’. It’s quite rare to find a person who could describe accurate the details of his meditation progress. He must have been spending months doing meditation everyday. It seemed he had stopped at that point where he actually felt that reality of the physical world was totally different from what we normally perceived everyday.
So, it took him three years to try to convey his mediations experiences into art work. He was fond of mathematics and precision of measurement methods. He had to learn techniques of wood work and metal work to be able to produce his art work. I found his art work very abstract in physical forms and representation. I was more used to oil painting and mixed media; mathematical representation lost my attention as there were too many minute details. I preferred a bigger picture or macro approach to grasping the whole gist of the matter than inspecting on each minute detail of representation.
The artist was rather ingenious as he invented a grass box in which he sat in meditation. Then detailed measurement of his sitting body were recorded by people putting metal polls through holes on the plastic sides of the box. These measurements were then modeled onto paper and wooden platform. The artists played with the expansion and reduction in sizes of this model of him in sitting meditation posture. All the calculations were done manually. So I thought he was really crazy about mathematics and mathematical symbols. He seemed to he attached to meticulous details of mathematical calculations and derived lots of satisfaction from getting everything right and perfect. This kind of effort would drive me crazy a I would prefer to put that amount of effort into planting trees and doing practical things. But I wasn’t an artist!
I found the basement very interesting as the renovation left the old marble floor with colourful Italian tiles as they were over two hundred years ago. I could feel the old familiar spirit of the Palace once more. My heart was very delighted to feel the vibes of the old Palace. The construction process must have frightened many old spirits away! Poor them! The old trees were all cut down, so I had no idea where they could be hiding. I just wished they had traveled to the other dimension waiting to be reincarnated into better life.
It would have been fun if the artist were to be guiding me through his exhibition. But I was afraid my inquisitive questioning would offend his sensibility, so it’s better that I didn’t meet him. In the past I used to meet several artists during their exhibitions and one artist even offered one of his paintings which got an award during the exhibition. I never dared to turn up to collect his gift as it was very expensive as an original work. He could make lots of money from that awarded painting. He was impressed by my interpretation of his work and that I could read his thoughts while painting.
I continued to visit him at his formal work place for a few years, but I never accepted his painting. He was an artist working as a civil servant in the capacity of a stage and prop designer at a military division. I still thought of him from time to time and wondering how his life turned out. I used to give him and his colleagues some coffee mugs with impressionist paintings; they became very fond of these mugs and used them for years.
Life seemed unfair for artists who had no connections with art colleges. Most famous and rich artists are mostly teachers or art lecturers in universities. That’s probably why I was infavour of the underdog and underprivileged. Connections seem to be very important in the art world here. Most successful artist in terms of fans and money most spent a few years in art schools overseas. They learned special techniques and skills which weren’t taught in art schools in the country.
After the serious exhibition, I needed to refresh my mind with mundane physical things. So I walked around taking photos of the wall of the Grand Palace across the road. The guard waved to me saying ‘no photos’. So, I walked around some shops by the art college. Most shops were still closed as there weren’t any tourists. Luckily an ice cream shop was still opened after five o’ clock.
The owner was about to close the shop so she couldn’t serve me coconut ice cream with toppings; so I had ordinary ice cream. She was very nice and polite with her last customer of the day who tried very hard to get coconut ice cream. I would definitely treat myself to a big bowl of home made coconut ice cream at the shop one day.
Wishing you peace, good health and prosperity.
Stay strong and cheerful.