Museums and art galleries seem the in-thing in Chiang Mai city and a new one, the brainchild of a local resident with long mileage abroad, opening next week is sure to further enliven the art scene for tourists travelling there this festive season.
The gallery belongs to Wattana Wattanapun who returned home recently after long years abroad and decided to build something of lasting value for the local people as well as tourists visiting the city generally regarded as Thailand's winter capital.
Wattana Art Gallery sits downtown close to Wat U-mong temple and it is slated to open on Dec 20. Named for its owner, an art lecturer who worked for several years in the US and Canada, the gallery aims to promote various styles of art.
"I built this gallery with money I had saved while working abroad," he said.
Wattana has been a visiting professor at many institutions in North America, including Haverford College, Oberlin College, Rhode Island School of Design, Simon Fraser University and Watkins Institute. Some of his works can be found at Bank of America, the Hilton and Sheraton hotel chains, Nissan's headquarters in the US, University of Washington Medical Center, Goethe Institute and TISCO company in Thailand. Wattana is currently an academic consultant to Chiang Mai University.
The gallery shares the same compound as his house. It is a simple three-storey building with an area of 180m2, a big exhibition hall on the ground floor, a hall and a studio on the second floor while on the third floor is a penthouse to accommodate guests.
The artistic emotion of the place is palpable. Though not decorated luxuriously, the gallery is attractive with contemporary design that can show off the beauty of small details, even cheap materials that most people may ignore.
The ground floor is paved with small pieces of marble _ the simple tiling pattern making the floor look like an art piece as well. The gallery has moveable wall panels which can swing out and easily change the hall's configuration and make more space for hanging pictures. The restrooms are bright with low-cost colourful tiles.
"I built this gallery as a place to keep my paintings. However, I have been working in the field of art for the whole of my life and have produced a number of pieces. This place can house only about one-third of my works," Wattana said. Indeed, he is not even sure how many paintings he has created.
The gallery showcases the various styles of his paintings, from abstract and figuration to symbolism. The collection, outstanding, features his impression of traditional Thai life, often in mixed media such as textile and traditional sa paper. Most paintings depict women in traditional attire.
Wattana explains that the ancient handwoven textiles reflect the status of the woman who weaves them. Like the weaver, the delicate textile is a minority practice among modern textiles rolling out of garment factories today.
"I want my work to also have a social function. Some even say my works are like social commentary. It shows cultural remnants which allows us to admire civilisation for its small beauty."
It's his hope that the gallery will add to enthusiasm for art education. And despite Chiang Mai having seen a large concentration of artists in the past year, Wattana thinks that exposure to art is still limited.
"Art activities exist only in big cities, and it creates a mainstream trend which overlooks the marginal culture. And because I live here, it is a good chance to promote art among the people here.
"Like Buddhist temples that play a significant role as the spiritual centre, art galleries contribute creativity to the community by giving a kind of spiritual touch and peace.
"It should also be the artist's commitment to serve the community."
Nevertheless, Wattana finds a big task awaiting him as he tries to build an awareness for art and serve also society. His house and gallery are located amidst a busy community where buildings, dormitories and street-side vendors abound and are an eyesore.
"Today, we do not realise the difference between beauty and ugliness. Society does not see the danger in this. If we allow this to go on, the unsightliness of buildings and construction sites will replace the beauty of this city.
"We may be a small spot on the art map, but whoever comes to this hermitage will most definitely get their share of happiness."
Opening on Dec 20, Wattana Art Gallery is located at 100/1 Soi Wat U-Mong, Moo 10, tambon Sutep, Muang district, Chiang Mai. Website: www.wwattanapun-art.com.
About the author
- Writer: Peerawat Jariyasombat
Position: Travel Reporter