Some artists are recognized for a signal work, a piece that defines their contribution. There are also artists who define the work, personifying the energy and possibility of art in their own character. Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee is of this latter variety, a multi-faceted force of nature in many ways. Taking in a single show scarcely scratches the surface of this lauded, internationally renowned artist. It is but an introduction to just how many layers can be embodied in an individual, unveiling a particular strength for broad exploration, as well as a commitment to the translation of experience into creation. It is clear that his work is limited to his senses, particularly as a Thai.
Born in Bangkok, he is a National Artist of Thailand in Visual Arts, and he counts among his sources a good foundation with deep cultural roots. To assess how deep, one could note that his first art instructor was his grandfather, who happened to be a court artist to King Rama IV when the country was still known as Siam. As a quintessential Thai artist, his work is celebrated with the occupation of an entire four-floor museum – the Queen’s Gallery in Bangkok – which opens February 4th, 2011.
His work is resplendent with influences and response to Thai culture, and his life as a Buddhist. Some works reference the art of shadow puppets, a form of communal entertainment centered in the temples, particularly in the times prior to television. His painting series titled The Four Elements: Earth, Wind, Water and Fire explores essentially primal Thai cosmological resources, painted large in rich natural colors. His Kite series reflects a national pastime, kite fighting, in which a male kite, “chula”, comes with attached grappling hooks, and engages female kites, “pakpao”, that are stationed at intervals, and are the quarry of the chula kites. An interplay between the forces of wind, human creativity in the colorful display of the kites themselves, the encounter of polarities, and the interweaving involved in bringing the two into contact – the entire sport could be a useful descriptor of the artist’s endeavor. Perhaps his legend is crowned with the fact that the man has three songs written about him.
After attending Srinakharinwirot University, the artist initially spent time in the United States earning an MFA at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles following recognition of his ability by William Alexander, a disciple of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Thereafter, crossing the divide between the two countries became a manner of life for him. His work in the US is closely tied with his home culture, such as his formation of the Thai Art Council. His role as an educator brings young Thai artists to the states to gain experience, whether through museum trips or encounters with wild and unique natural landscapes, such as a recent field trip to the Valley of Fire in Nevada. From the beginning his work has been well received, with a painting recently acquired by the Fredrick R. Weisman Art Foundation, and a diptych from his signature Buddha’s Footprint series going on long-term loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
With hundreds of exhibits nationally and internationally, attending an exhibit of Kamol’s work is viewing a segment of living art history. The artist carries an established familiarity with multiplicity, such as the dyad of East and West. His work with Buddha’s Footprint is a suitable metaphor for the way he straddles worlds. The simple footprint was the original iconographic representation of the Buddha, before Silk Road syncretism brought the more familiar images and statuary of symbolic features, posture and gesture. The work is a fitting statement for one who sees a meeting of worlds in one respect, yet also an elemental nature within ideas, which he locates and actively employs in combination throughout. As the footprint represents in exterior symbol a very singular element in history, it also suggest the near absence of the observer, that the significance is carried in the living individual and their process, more so than the outpourings that are left behind as works.
His paintings are composed of more than paint in its strictest sense, incorporating sticks, gravel, dirt, and texture born of physical involvement with the surfaces. They are full of a sense of adventure, energetic and meditative. Composition is essentially abandoned, discounting the composition already present in the dimension and shape of the canvas; instead we witness the results of a state of heightened awareness, a transformation of sensual material, and activation through texture. As just one example, his Kite series does involve the placement of sticks referencing the struts of a fighting kite, however through his conversion the object can vanish and the sticks become pure texture, fitting well into the abstract. One gets the impression that the artist is less interested in the dialogue of what art is, preferring to engage what art could be.
The artist also writes, sculpts in large scale, and does relief work, but his paintings in particular display less intellectual activity, less involvement, and more of a pure translation and discovery of energy drawn from his experience of life, nature and the elements of his culture. In one project we see the development of a reaction to the vastness of the United States landscape, with pigments sweeping across dry soil in the wild and changing environ of the Mojave desert, and photographed in relationship to a dynamic sky. Enthusiasm and scale can also be found in his more recent paintings, possibly influenced by contact with America. The change in his work brought on by this shift in dimension is striking, highlighting the artist’s familiarity and involvement with the elements.
There is a strong presence of time and mastery in evidence, a demonstration that the artist finds a comfortable connection between element and result. The sign of this experience and accomplished acumen is in the effortlessness that one finds most prominent in his work, and the marked freshness, the discovery that he offers us as the result of how he participates in his world. It is said that the first mark is the only free mark… all the following marks are dependant upon it. To wind up with mature examples of discovery, drawing from what is experienced without being limited by it, this is a definition of effortlessness. It is not a matter of new interpretation, but pure discovery, involvement with the process of life, and thus true creation.
Each work and series produced by Dr. Tassananchalee visibly has its own movement, tied together by his character, vision and experience into a single path, a way of life. In this way, viewing his work becomes more of a participation in a living event, walking alongside and seeing the world with a traveled artist, and being in the company of an expert translator.
November 2010 – Published for Artist’s Retrospective Catalog
LA ARTCORE CENTER
Lydia Takeshita – Executive Director
Robert Seitz – Administrative Assistant