Bangkok Post reviews
Kharma'S gonna get you
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: September 11, 2013 at 8:06 am
Con-artist contractor inspires real artist Yuree Kensaku
On the face of it, a subject as weighty as kharma wouldn't take too well to caricature, but the exhibition currently underway at Bangkok's 100 Tonson Gallery, "Karma Police", successfully creates a multicoloured luminosity from this seemingly heavy theme.
Yuree Kensaku's inspiration is close to home. Literally. Earlier this year, the 33-year-old artist was swindled by a construction contractor _ a debacle which left her both homeless and studio-less.
"It was a terribly chaotic time and I had to cope with so much hassle. I didn't have anywhere to live, let alone work. I didn't even have a place to store my supplies and these enormous art pieces," recalls Yuree, now a good deal calmer and more collected, referring to some of the items displayed in the present show. "My friends had a laugh about it, though, and told me that I should be grateful that I at least got something [inspiration] from that incident, even if did come at a huge cost."
"Karma Police" has an air of tokidoki-ness _ oh-so-cute characters _ about it, which is hardly unexpected since Yuree is of Thai-Japanese extraction and she grew up watching cartoons like Dragon Ball and Doraemon. She's petite and has a rather demure appearance, not at all the wild-looking bohemian you'd expect the creator of all this pulsating artwork to be.
"My favourite cartoons nowadays are probably the Studio Ghibli ones, partly because they try to raise awareness about the environment," she says referring to a Japanese animation studio.
"I like looking at things that try to deliver a good message or give you some food for thought. I'm not really into mindless stuff."
Easy As Cake
It's easy to dismiss all her neon rainbows, bouncy pigs and cartoonish canines as mere computer graphics because the colouration is so solid and the bold, striking works are so ultra-precise; it's as if the images on this massive canvas were all created by the Paintbucket function in Illustrator. But, no, all these cute creatures and wondrous knick-knacks you see in Yuree's paintings are comprised of multiple layers of acrylic paint laboriously applied by hand to canvas or fibreglass in order to achieve this superlatively unblemished look in many vibrant hues.
These are far from being conventional paintings _ especially with their collage-style bits and bobs that imbue them with such a myriad of textures that you feel an urge to touch them, run your fingers over them. Plastic googly eyes, fluffy fur, felt, layers of glitter and strands of rope have all been thrown into the mix, but so skilfully that it never feels excessive and still resembles a flat, 2D image. Some pieces are decorated with curtain tassels and the effect created is like artwork framed by drapes. The experience of seeing just how how much can be achieved, despite having to conform to the narrow painting-hanging-on-a-wall approach, will surely raise our expectations for future exhibitions of contemporary painting; after this, the traditional and the generic may no longer excite.
And while the clutter of objects in each piece may at times obscure the message, each could easily serve as absorbing entertainment along the lines of a Where's Wally? game.
Nevertheless, "All of the objects, however seemingly random, are definitely there for a reason," Yuree explains, pointing out that the ninja's dog, Shishi-Maru, in a piece of hers called Ninja Contractor, is actually coughing, suffering from the ill-effects of a smoke-bomb his master threw.
"The ninja, like that building contractor of mine, has caused so much trouble for all the people surrounding him. What I'm saying here is that even people who are on his side are badly affected and distressed."
It was that unfortunate episode with the builder that sparked Yuree's interest in kharma (what happens to cheaters like him; do they get their comeuppance?), but she says she is also curious about other religions and how they respond to people who do wicked things.
"In practice, perhaps I haven't changed into a completely angelic person, but I've definitely become more knowledgeable in the process." Her paintings illustrate allegories such as one about the Nariphon tree in Buddhist mythology (which bears fruit that are human females), Little Red Riding Hood, lessons from the Bible and also from Islam _ particularly how music, according to a certain strict interpretation of Islamic teaching, is forbidden.
Love You Long Time
But as endearing as her caricatures are, the slightly hardcore tinge that underlies these images saves them from being suffocatingly cutesy-cute. Think pink little piggy with sinister glowing eyes, a hand heartlessly scrunching a heart and a possessed-looking demon jamming on his rainbow guitar. The vague queasiness these contradictions cause, a signature element in Yuree's style, injects just the right amount of unease so that you don't feel like you're floating in a pool of kawaii (the Japanese cute culture) and neon. The event that gave her inspiration may have been ugly, but Yuree has triumphantly channelled her energy into art.
"Art about something sad doesn't have to look gloomy too. I definitely don't want my audience to feel terrible while looking at it. We should try to keep a positive outlook with everything _ if I continued feeling bad and being in the dumps because of my situation, I would probably still be there."
As our chat comes to a close, we ask Yuree if she has any last words, maybe a full-on lash at the contractor, but the artist lets it go.
"All bad things in the world eventually get exposed and there's no hiding. I guess I'm soft and don't really have anything to say to him, just that what he's done has made me really upset. Other people out there today might have gone out to stab or shoot him, but I'm not like that."
"Karma Police" is on display at 100 Tonson Gallery, Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, until Nov 3. Open Thurs-Sun 11am-7pm.