The Shared Artistic Attributes Of Chatchai Puipia, Shone Puipia And Pinaree Sanpitak
Over the past few decades Thailand’s art scene has flourished to become one of the most dynamic and vibrant in the region. Today the country boasts numerous platforms that help to promote artists and educate people in the field of art, the Bangkok Art Biennale and Photo Bangkok among others.
Not many can boast of being part of a family of artists like our three cover stars, Chatchai Puipia, Pinaree Sanpitak and their son Shone Puipia. While he shuns publicity himself, there is no doubting Chatchai’s paternal pride in his son, an appropriate emotion as we celebrate Father’s Day in Thailand this month. And there are few in the art scene here that aren’t familiar with Chatchai’s name. His paintings adorn the walls of the homes of prominent local and international art collectors. One of Thailand’s most celebrated contemporary artists, the Silpakorn University graduate began with an interest in sculpture but since the 1990s he has become known for his unique self-portraits and still-life paintings, which have often been praised as symbolic of the country’s historic movement from the traditional to the progressive.
His work remains an enigma for some but Chatchai has no time for self analysis and deep critique. “There is no right or wrong about what you see in a painting. It is your perception,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “Truth be told, I don’t like having to explain my work.” His signature existential self portraits of his own grimacing face with attendant butterflies, he says, is an amalgamation of multiple influences, a combination of emotions and experiences that are difficult to put into words. “I’m sure some of the imagery is linked to my father’s passing and the eye contact we had during his last moments. And the influence of having been an Asian visiting the West many years ago when I was much younger, experiencing the public gaze as a foreigner, being stereotyped, these experiences also make their way into my work. There are many influential factors involved but for me painting is like therapy, a form of expression where words don’t suffice.”
Despite his renown, Chatchai maintains a life of semi-seclusion and keeps the art scene at arm’s length. Humble and introvert by nature—even a little esoteric—he says, “I haven’t organised an exhibition for 20 years. It was never my intention to make a career or money out of art. I have had a taste of the commercial side of being an artist and frankly, it just isn’t my thing. I still paint every day but my journey with art is a very personal one. I don’t like being the centre of attention. As I said, increasingly I approach art as life therapy—that is what I value it for.”
For me, painting is like therapy, a form of expression where words don’t suffice.
— Chatchai Puipia
Chatchai’s former partner Pinaree Sanpitak, on the other hand, remains active in the art community. As with her previous work, her latest exhibition, called House Calls, has captivated enthusiasts, making her one of the most compelling Thai artists of her generation. Her pieces, which have appeared in exhibitions in Asia, Europe and the US, offer a powerful exploration of what it means to live as a woman. Emphasising womanhood, motherhood and the female form, her chef d’oeuvres focus on breasts as stupas, highlighting otherworldly representations of fertility and femininity. “It’s natural that my creations reflect my personal experiences and who I am as a woman,” says the University of Tsukuba graduate. “Art is a form of language with its own unique vocabulary. But it is as wide open as the field between a classic novel and a comic book.”
Since her debut in the 1980s Pinaree’s artistic life has been a continual journey of exploration spanning mediums as diverse as sculpture, collage and paper fibre work and thought-provoking installations such as her globally renowned Breast Stupa Topiary made from yakisugi charred wood. “I think over time I have grown and learned how to enjoy collaborative work, to trust others more,” she says. “That’s why I chose to collaborate with chefs to create breast stupa cooking moulds, which was great fun because I love to cook and bake. And I continue to explore and experiment. People like to focus on the breast-centric aspect but really the key messages for me are sharing, contemplation and connecting with people. It’s not about the breasts but the whole body, mind included, and about being human."
It’s natural that my creations reflect my personal experiences and who I am as a woman.
— Pinaree Sanpitak
Although separated since their now 27-year-old son Shone was a small boy, Chatchai and Pinaree have kept up a close friendship for many years. Perhaps it is the passion they share for their artistic interests and the obvious respect they have for each other as artists—whatever the reason, their bond certainly provided a nurturing, educational environment for their son and it is unsurprising that he too followed a creative path to become a fashion designer. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, Shone spent four years there honing his design skills and added shoe pattern-making skills learned in Milan for good measure. While Chatchai and Pinaree were happy to give him the freedom he needed, they did help their son to prepare his entrance portfolio and during his subsequent years in Antwerp both parents would fly over to support him at his faculty’s annual fashion shows.
Being raised by artistic parents, Shone’s childhood was filled with trips to the museum and galleries in Thailand and overseas. “Our circle of friends is mostly made up of artists, so I think the environment he grew up in gave him a natural appreciation for art,” says Pinaree, although Chatchai adds a dissenting note. “Frankly I figured because he was always around it, he would eventually move away from art.” Shone, however, agrees with his mother and says that while he never felt pressured to pursue a particular course, it was seeing Pinaree’s work with mawata raw silk and other materials that sparked his interest in fabric. “I think her experimentation with materials has influenced my designs, the finish to clothes, the use of colour. And I love the process of moulding fabric to a mannequin because it is so like sculpting,” he says.
While Chatchai doesn’t get too involved, every now and then he makes sure his son is still happy in his work. He also encourages Shone to try to see the bigger picture in life. “I think it’s great that he has found his path,” says the doting father. “We always remind him that he’s part of a team and that credit should always be given where it is due. It’s important for him to show recognition and support for those working with him.”
Shone’s priority for the future is to grow his eponymous Shone PuiPia fashion brand. In the past couple of years he has shown luxurious contemporary womenswear, shoes and accessories collections, generating much interest in his studio-showroom SOI SA:M at Suanplu which was contructed on a plot of land his dad bought for him. As for Chatchai himself, daily painting aside, the 56-year-old has found a fun hobby, attested to by his involvement in the design and outfitting of his son’s atelier. “I’ve become interested in property development,” he laughs. “You know, architecture and geometry. I don’t do it for anyone else really. I love construction work, architectural drawing and interior decorating, the symmetry of it, working creatively in defined spaces. Perhaps one of my designs can be used for another family project in the future.”
For Pinaree, her House Calls exhibition—her first solo showcase in almost a decade—is keeping the 59-year-old artist busy. It runs at Tonson Foundation until April 2021. “I have been very lucky to be able to do what I do. Some may think art is restrictive but it isn’t. If you are witty enough there are ways to be subversive,” she twinkles. “I want to be able to do what I love for another 20 years or more so my focus looking ahead will be my health.”
“For me, painting is like therapy, a form of expression where words don’t suffice” —Chatchai Puipia
“It’s natural that my creations reflect my personal experiences and who I am as a woman” —Pinaree Sanpitak
- Photography Add Wimolrungkarat
- Make-Up Ithigorn Luksameejunporn
- Outfit Shone Puipia
- Location SOI SA:M