“Waiting” Natee Utarit©2020
Courtesy of the artist and Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery
What if art became pandemic?
What if art extended over more countries at the same time?
To counteract everyday blues, Natee Utarit‘s paintings are exhibited concomitantly in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore under the form of a pop-up event organised by the Richard Koh Fina Art Gallery between the 4th and the 12th of June. Departing from the painter’s contemporaneous life ritual, the exhibition initiates a performance of profound elucidation of what complete freedom means: to oscillate between action ingrained with unique life story and retreat into soul-fuelled creation.
What if lockdown meant withdrawing into a vocation just as the artist Natee Utarit self-isolated into painting in his workshop years before the restriction of movement occurred?
And what if in this voluntary absconding, one would have a clear and dear sequential revelation of the essential actions of one’s life?
Natee Utarit is an admirer since high-school of the Dutch painter, Willem de Kooning, whose style is known as abstract expressionism or “action painting”. Furthermore, the Thai painter is a passionate of photography and has already collected numerous cameras. Action painting and camera are refined and great working tools employed by Natee Utarit to select and reveal precious gestures of human action that was ongoing just before the pandemic, but was taken for granted as forever lasting and boring.
The exhibition “Every day, Every day, I have the Blues” is a metaphor of the big picture of our life before, during and after the restriction measures, but also of our need to tell the stories of the happenings we really, really lived. Visionarily succeeding to the artist’s exhibition “View from the Tower” from 2018, the currently presented body of artworks is in fact a beloved, inestimable collection of essential things that make a person happy.
The audio guide through the exhibition is replaced by Natee Utarit himself who probably becomes the first painter to decipher and divulge, in advance of all critics and art historians, the normality of his life circumstances as an inspiration for his paintings.
While the exhibition’s e-catalogue is a painter’s storytelling in an open and appreciative manner of his happy life moments, the paintings diffuse subtle and influential messages about the vibrant, expressive essence of the incessant human spirit, élan and gestures.
A collection of essential things that make somebody happy
revealed in the Richard Koh Galleries
Roxana Florina Popa: What new feelings, perceptions and potential does a simultaneous exhibition in 3 places – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore – bring to you as the creator of the presented body of artwork? How do you think the pandemic contributed to merging the ubiquitous world of the digital with that of the physical in art exhibitions?
Natee Utarit: Actually, Richard Koh was the one who had this idea on performing an exhibition in synchronicity in three places with the artwork I created during the past six to seven months. In the midst of the unusual situation we are all going through, I have not thought of organising an exhibition at all. I just keep doing what I’m doing routinely, which is no other than doing my art work. This Part 4 series is no different. Due to a very simple reason, whenever my creativity is on the run, I tend to paint smaller-scale paintings. I have continuously been doing this for years and years.
Lastly, things do change and factors that trigger the changes can of course shift the presentation of our art exhibitions both in the digital and physical fields.
We only need to be aware at all times of the essence of content and the values in everything – this is the best way to find and receive quality.
Everything changes. Situations change. The world changes. Surely, we cannot just stand still and wait for success while the world keeps rotating.
To get light and perspective on the important things in life, climb at the top of a mango tree
Roxana Florina Popa: In the e-catalogue, we find out that light and perspective are the elements you chose to work with in order to explore image making. In the context of the pandemic, it seems to me that light and perspective become spiritual tools to allow people “see through the painting”, through the wisdom story it tells, all the beautiful usual things they unconsciously ignored or took for granted before the pandemic.
Dwelling on the essentials that truly make us enjoy life and metaphorically speaking, should people plant their own mango tree?
Natee Utarit: The answer lies within my preface of this series: we humans can appreciate normality… only one day when we realize we lose the normality.
On a usual working day, I tend to keep the normality and simpleness as my core values at all times. I have never failed or lost these values. In terms of painting, I focus on conveying the truth of what I saw. Then, I add more flavour on each of the painting elements, similarly to using food condiments.
To explain the term of “perspective”, I tend to go with this technique because it enables a connection with the audience’s eyes and from there, an engagement is drawn. An example would be the painting named “A Burmese Girl is Climbing a Mango Tree”. If you look closely at the painting, you and the audiences will be first drawn to the centre of the painting – which is a chair. Then, the chair will lead you to the male figure wearing a blue shirt (left hand side). Further, this leads your eyes to the right hand side of the painting where the artist is standing. At the end, the perspective journey will carry you to to the artist looking at something outside the window.
These are the languages for genuine classic painting. Both painting languages and storytelling techniques can often be seen on my previous paintings…they have always been there.
Roxana Florina Popa: Recalling your 2018 exhibition “View from the Tower” whose title appears visionary in announcing the pandemic retreat, what new insights the windows of your workshop – this time under restriction of movement – have added to the philosophy of this previous exhibition?
Natee Utarit: Ohhhh…. You have such a great eye! I haven’t thought about this. It’s wonderful that you caught this and found the connecting dot to it. This is quite true.
Actually, this lockdown, created by the impact of the pandemic, does not mean much of an impact to me at all, since my nature is to work inside my studio enjoying the tranquillity anyhow.
Day in and day out, I’m always at the studio, and if not, I would probably be working on my bed in my bedroom. Even if I travel elsewhere, this would not affect my daily live schedule.
And this is how my painting reflects this kind of visionary quality to you.
How obvious the arrival of this pandemic time was and we did not see it!
Roxana Florina Popa: According to Richard Koh’s opening words in the “View from the Tower” exhibition catalogue, you had opted since that time to work in isolation for several years. You did so in order to paint landscapes and probably, without knowing that in only few years you would not be allowed any more to walk into those physical landscapes. Are you to a certain extent regretting this voluntary isolation? And at the 4th floor of your workshop close to the sky, have you felt this isolation as restrictive or expansive? I think many people, including myself, unconsciously retreated and focused on things and people important to them in the years prior to the pandemic.
Natee Utarit: This is my nature. I lived my life in a solitude lifestyle and I think this is why I did not feel any isolation nor abnormality like others have had (especially where they have limited space and time).
I strongly believe that this situation has a positive effect for our mind as long we see and treat it in a positive way. To further illustrate this, I think and ponder on things that cannot be controlled at all times and this is why the situation taught us a lesson on “limitation” and the essence of “self-awareness”.
Another learnt lesson is that retreat does give us a sense of being more with our inner self. Standing and viewing as a third person, looking inside ourselves, contemplating what is happening around us is something we do not usually do at normal times. We were living with the freedom of indulging happiness and joy from the external world. And once the pandemic arrived, we typically blamed whatever is more expansive to our eyes, or in other words, we blamed the external factors at first and foremost.
Make yourself an image about your life
Roxana Florina Popa: Your favourite painter in high school was the Dutch-American abstract expressionist, Willem de Kooning. Also, it looks to me that the camera sharpness influenced your journey from de Kooning’s abstract to the everyday-life realist painting. You are also sharing with us about the invisible side of painting that awaits its truth to be revealed. What meanings is abstract painting expecting its viewers to discover compared to your real life paintings?
Natee Utarit: Abstraction is not something we could see with our bear eyes. To see abstraction is something that takes senses. Nowadays, the world around us makes us believe what our eyes witness – much more than the truth or the essence matter that is there. Hence, we tend to believe the picture in front of us rather than seeking truth within that matter.
This is due to social media and its impact. The social media, by default, makes you focus on what is on that picture and its caption. Imagine, how many pictures and captions you see and interpret in your own ways each day from the Internet. What I mean is that caption can be edited and still picture can be more meaningful.
This is why we often misinterpret and tend to forget to contemplate and examine more deeply what we are seeing in front of us. In addition, what we have just examined and reverted back to our own self before moving to the next picture is also what we usually do nowadays. Forward pictures tend to have a very short life-span, as one picture after another, you might not even understand that particular picture fully because there is a new picture (and caption) incoming…waiting for you to see already.
When it comes to abstract painting, I adore the communication process herewith; even though it is not necessarily working (it is difficult to be tuned in) for the community and media, public relations/communication. This requires various layers in nowadays.
I still have a lot of faith in abstract painting and that language it uses to communicate, nonetheless.
Special Thanks go to the artist Natee Utarit, to the Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery
and to Nor Harith, gallery assistant
ABOUT THE ARTIST NATEE UTARIT
Natee Utarit (b. 1970, Bangkok) studied at the College of Fine Art in 1987 and graduated in Graphic Arts at the Painting and Sculpture Faculty at Silpakorn University, both in Bangkok, Thailand in 1991. Solo exhibitions include Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces, The Private Museum, Singapore (2018), Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces, National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia (2017), Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces, Ayala Museum, Manila, the Philippines (2017), Illustration of the Crisis, Bangkok University Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand (2013), After Painting, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore (2010) and The Amusement of Dreams, Hope and Perfection, Art Center of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (2007).
Recent group exhibitions include Beyond Bliss, Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, Bangkok, Thailand (2018), Contemporary Chaos, Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, Norway (2018), Thai Eye, BACC, Bangkok, Thailand and Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2016/2015), Art of ASEAN, Bank Negara Museum and Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2015), Time of Others, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan (2015) and Asian Art Biennale 2013: Everyday Life, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan (2013).
His work is part of many renowned collections, such as the Bangkok University, Bangkok, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, as well as private collections in Europe and Asia.
Utarit’s multifaceted practice focuses on the exploration of the medium of painting connecting it with photography and classical Western art. Light and perspective are some of the elements the artist chose to work with, focusing on painting as a means to explore image making. His complex pictures, juggle wide-ranging metaphors usually in the format of the traditional still life, allude to Thailand’s current social and political landscapes.
ABOUT RICHARD KOH FINE ART GALLERY
Founded in 2005, with spaces in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore, Richard Koh Fine Art is committed to the promotion of Southeast Asian contemporary art on regional and international platforms. Centred around a core belief in developing an artist’s career, the gallery looks to identify understated, albeit promising practices, and providing it opportunities to flourish. Through its regular exhibition cycles, print & digital publications and cross-border gallery collaborations, Richard Koh Fine Art engages the art community with the aim of developing regional and intercultural dialogue.