Me and Them

Solo exhibition by Tawatchai Somkong

These hundreds of years old paintings purchased from antique flea markets are a congruent part of an exhibition of contemporary art at the white gallery as part of an art rescue operation by Tawatchai Somkong. Works by unknown artists of eras gone by are brought back to life and made a part of the modern world where art is not just a home décor for the wealthy, a norm that is a far cry from art’s definition in the past.

An idea came to Tawatchai in 2014 when he thought about producing a collection of works with various old paintings he has collected over time from numerous sources, like online websites such as eBay and even antique flea markets in Italy. Each painting was personally selected for the story they convey, their brilliant techniques, and intriguing composition. The one crucial key all the paintings contain, though, is their ability to spark ideas within him. For Tawatchai, it is as if the paintings themselves are waiting for him to do something for them.

The artist employed diverse methods for these old paintings and birthed entirely different results, segregated into two categories. The first, “old paintings that stay old”, are works in the initial phase of the project, which without close scrutiny, viewers will not be able to discern that each painting has undergone a certain refining process. For example, in the painting of Baby Jesus on the Virgin Mary’s lap, the baby’s face is replaced with Tawatchai’s own, or in another painting where he appears to have leapt into an empty seat in the middle of a chaotic living room.

On the other hand, the second category proves precisely how beyond canny Tawatchai really is. He has breathed another life into these vintage paintings making “old paintings anew” through the addition of abstract and contradictory elements. For instance, an eye that is floating so prominently in a forest, wisps of stringy clouds all over the original sky scenery, to painting one of the characters in a brilliant shade of crimson in a scene where the body of Christ is being taken down from the cross.

The effects of the latter category are filled with such an array of diverse techniques and shows the progression of his initial thoughts. These old paintings may have the addition of new subject matters, but their original tone remains mostly intact, the interpretation of the original structure, in terms of components, techniques, and the story-telling, before they are made anew.

In summary, this entire process is as if the markers of time are rubbed away and these artworks of the past, once again, become a part of the present day. This was not brought forth by the effort of just a single person, but by both of their creators, the past artists together with Tawatchai.