Thawan Duchanee’s Buddhist Art Works

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By painting the world with its different forms and images, I became a part of God! (Thawan Duchanee)  

Maybe you remember my article about Thawan Duchanee’s Black House Museum that is called ‘Baan Dam’ in Thai. Apart from creating the Black Houses in Chiang Rai, Thawan (1939-2014) was also a great Thai and Buddhist artist who from a very young age had the inspiration and intuition to paint. In fact, the artist was called “as pure Thai as glutinous rice and mangos” by the former Thai prime minister M.R. Kukrit Pramoj. Even though Thawan lived a secular life, he was very much in harmony with his Buddhist matters. In addition, he looked like a sage and wise man with his long white beard.

Thawan Duchanee

The artist at work (photo credit: Facebook, Thawan Duchanee)

The artist at work (photo credit: Facebook, Thawan Duchanee)

Thawan saw his art works as an intense interpretation of the Buddhist dharma. Hence, he was primarily concerned with human beings. However, he used animals as medium, vehicles and symbols to voice his concern. Thus, on the one side he presented predatory animals like tigers to stand for lust or the desire for pleasure. On the other side, he portrayed victimzed or attacked animals that represent fear or the desire for escape.

Animals as symbols, tiger attacking a boar (photo credit: ponlavit.com)

Animals as symbols, tiger attacking a boar (photo credit: ponlavit.com)

In a metaphorical sense, Thawan Duchanee used animals to symbolize the lower traits or animal natures inherent in human beings. These lower traits are for instance, fear, greed, lust and the ego. These animal instincts interfere with human spiritual growth. The aim is simply to conquer undesirable personality traits. Similar to Buddha’s victory over Mara symbolizing ‘Samsara’, the circle of  life and death.

Battle of Mara (1989), oil on canvas (photo credit: rama9art.org)

Battle of Mara (1989), oil on canvas (photo credit: rama9art.org)

However, the artist also pointed out that humans are different from animals because they have the power of thinking and creating. In this sense, human beings are able to create civilization, culture and art. This is exactly what the artist did. In the following video, Thawan talks about the different phases of his art works and his general intentions.

Thawan’s artistic works are indeed complex and versatile. We may say that he created a unique Asian artistic expression by combining Thai, Chinese and other Asian traditions like Japanese calligraphy. Hence, the artist also did Sumi-e painting which is a kind of Zen ink-brush painting.

'Horse' Sumi-e painting, 1991 (photo credit: rama9art.org)

‘Horse’ Sumi-e painting, 1991 (photo credit: rama9art.org)

The special feature of such Zen brush painting is that the artist needs momentary concentration and speed to create the work with no intention or doctrine of mind. Thawan described this technique as “a wild boar running forward to attack, my brushstrokes show the same speed and strength as the running boar” (T. Duchanee, Modern Buddhist Artist, p. 111).

Finally, there still remains so much more to say about his Buddhist art. Thus, I recommend you read Russell Marcus’ book about the artist for more detailed information, if you are interested in the subject. You might also want to check out my book review about Thawan Duchanee: Modern Buddhist Artist in this context 🙂

What do you think about Thawan Duchanee’s art? Do you find it representative of Thai and Buddhist art generally?

Yours, Sirinya

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1 Response

  1. 28. April 2015

    […] Thawan Duchanee is a prominent representative of Thai and Asian art. He started his artistic education at the Poh Chang Arts and Crafts College. Thawan Duchanee then studied at Silpakorn University under the Italian painter Corrado Feroci (Silpa Bhilasri) who is known as the father of modern Thai art. Thawan Duchanee is also familiar with Western artistic traditions since he also studied at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam. […]

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