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Independent writer and editor from Canada based in Phuket, Thailand. Life is good!

Phuket Art Village: where creative souls meet

By September 05, 2017

Entering the Phuket Art Village, a small enclave of artists found hidden away down a narrow road near Nai Harn beach on Phuket, is like stepping into a childhood storybook.

A collection of rustic, hand-built art studios in a kaleidoscope of colours are arranged around a giant banyan tree. Piles of wood, the scent of oil paints, walls made of painted recycled wood or wallpapered with flip-flops or lined with hundreds of plastic bottles, half-finished canvases with swirls of colour propped against a wall. Huge murals of animals, a life-like sculpture of an opium smoker, plastic jellyfish chandeliers, a painted surfboard … at every nook and cranny there’s captivating objet d’art or a work in progress to see.

The village overall has an eco-conscious character with the sea and island life playing prominent roles in many of the artists’ creations. The setting is relaxed and casual. Anyone is free to show up and have a look around, and most of the studio doors are invitingly left open even if the artists are out.

Since it was built about seven years ago, the village has seen artists come and go, and on our most recent visit we met one artist and explored the studios of three others who were not on site at the time.

Prasopsuk Gallery by Prasopsuk “Pom” Lerdviriyapiti

One of the newer arrivals to the village, Khun Prasopsuk, better known as Ajarn (Teacher) Pom, uses her art to spread the message of eco awareness. We met her on a day when she was hosting a free workshop for kids at her studio, where a small group of children were busily making paintings with sea life imagery.

Born in Bangkok, but living in Phuket for more than 20 years, Ajarn Pom’s art has taken her around the world, including teaching at a Montessori school in Thailand and three years living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where her shopping bag designs from recycled materials created a sensation large enough to be featured on TV there.

In 2004, Ajarn Pom was working as a portrait sketch artist at Nai Harn beach and one day in late December she had an appointment elsewhere so she didn’t go to the beach that day. Soon enough, she started receiving calls from friends when the tsunami waves struck the island.

In the aftermath, she travelled all over Phuket to see the damage and help with the cleaning up, and she was shocked by the amount of garbage that had washed ashore. From that day onwards, her life became a mission to educate others about the environmental damage caused by waste, and she uses this waste collected from the sea and beaches to create her striking works of art. She regularly visits local schools to hold eco workshops and has exhibited her work at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre and elsewhere.

Her studio is a showcase of her eco art, adorned with eye-catching works made with fishing nets, plastic bags and bottles, plastic dolls, bottle caps, bits of metal and wood, and other items she’s found on her beach cleanup walks. The most striking are her jellyfish lights and tropical fish wall hangings made from brightly coloured plastic waste.

Love Art Studio by Pui Ngowsiri 

With a multi-coloured lofty structure built with recycled wooden planks, Khun Pui’s studio is the most noticeable in the village, and with each passing year it has new quirky additions. Inside is a maze of rooms, each full of a bewildering array of art pieces in various styles and stages of completion.

Most of his art pieces are made with recycled materials, following Khun Pui’s philosophy of art that he describes in a paragraph painted on an interior wall. He sees discarded objects as items full of potential, and his focus is on reincarnating the objects – giving them a new life. Such items are called “junk” because they’ve lost their identity and function, but Khun Pui believes that every object retains an essence or spirit that he intends to revive, giving them a new function, story and form.

Niran Gallery by Niran Chanhom 

Khun Niran was born in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai but has lived in Phuket for several years and his art reflects his captivation with the Andaman Sea. He works with a range of mediums, with part of his studio displaying luminous oil paintings of mostly fishermen and ocean imagery. He also creates lively wooden wall hangings made from driftwood, with faces and fish painted in cheerful pastel tones. The works of this award-winning artist have been exhibited at several art shows around Thailand.

Red Room Gallery by Somrak Maneemai

Displayed on the red wall of Khun Somrak’s gallery are several paintings with a surrealist touch, mostly of bright-eyed cats in unusual shapes. The artist, who was born in the southern province of Krabi and studied art in Bangkok, now spends most of his time in Australia but his studio remains open. Many of his works are also on exhibit at Gallery Salamanca in Tasmania, which details how his art shifted away from a photo-realist style after the death of his mother in 2003.

Describing his work on the gallery’s website, Khun Somrak said, “Beliefs, truths, memories, dreams, sensory experiences, happiness, suffering … These are the elements informing my work. Rising and falling, connections forming and growing. As I apply washes to the canvas I begin responding to images that float up in my mind. A web of images and ideas grow and a picture forms. It is a meditative process. It is much the same as we go through life; responding, building, remembering, dreaming. It is sometimes conscious and sometimes not. Our history shapes us. A story unfolds.”

(This story was originally published in Insider Asia magazine.)

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