Art, memories, friendship and love

The late National Artist Thawan Duchanee lived in two houses, each of which tells a different story about his life.

While art lovers are familiar with Thawan Duchanee’s Black House (Baan Dam) in Chiang Rai, they know little about the home in Bangkok where he lived with his common-law wife Thippachart Wannakul.

“Baan Rua Khao Kwai (House with the Buffalo Horn Fence) is his life while the Chiang Rai’s Baan Dam house is his work,” Thippachart, who calls herself Aunty Odd, said at a press conference for the “Miss You Thawan Duchanee” Exhibition.

The common-law wife of the national artist for over 30 years is organising the exhibition almost 9 years after his death. She said she would like to shout “I miss you”, so this exhibition is perhaps the best way for her to share that emotion with others.

Front and back cover of the exhibition programme

What she is bringing to the exhibition is the couple’s happy life in Baan Navatanee (nicknamed Baan Rua Khao Kwai) which was home to the late master for over 3 decades.

At 2pm on 3 September 2014, Thailand and indeed the world’s art society lost its renowned artist. Aunty Odd lost her true friend and partner of more than 30 years. Coping with the loss of Thawan on that day was almost unbearable.

“Now that all the legal issues have been resolved, I want to organise this exhibition to express my love for and memories of Uncle Wan (as she calls him) for the last time, using money I inherited from him and everything at Baan Navatanee. Every painting, drawing, sculpture and letter in this exhibition are his authentic works. They represent the memories of Thawan from my heart.”

Despite his local and international fame, few people had a chance to glimpse into his real life: how he worked, what his “office” looked like and how he talked and wrote to his wife.

Last two paintings at the exhibition

Entering the exhibition is like stepping into the private quarters of the two. It is unlike any other art exhibition of Thawan because it showcases artworks handpicked by someone who dearly loves and misses him, and from her own perspective.

In short, it is the exhibition that speaks to the viewer from his soul.

People will see animal horns – one of the master’s trademarks – lying on a big table which is how they are placed in the house. His working space was not big. Indeed, he was happy with limited space and he was also very tidy and clean – no colour drops around the work area.

Aunty Odd also “brings” the bedroom and his triangular pillows and bathroom with shell decoration to the exhibition. The costume that she arranged for him to wear at the award reception in Fukoka in Japan in 2001 is also on show.

“It is just like we are walking through their home,” said an art collector at the exhibition.

Collection and Thawan Duchanee’s working space

The paintings – most of them unseen elsewhere – belong to Aunty Odd and her selection includes the two last paintings by the master. “The two are his last and one of them lacks his signature as it is not yet completed,” she told reporters.

The first floor of exhibition is a preamble that takes visitor to Baan Khao Kwai with various decorations such as jars, animal horns and shells. All have stories behind them. On the second floor, the visitor learns about Thawan’s identity through his collections – animal skins and horns. These objects went on to reflect the creation of many valuable works of the master.

The 3rd floor gives visitors a glance into a different way of life of the master hitherto unknown and include the messages he wrote on paper and newspaper. The artworks that reflect the life of Thawan (1939-2014) are displayed on this floor. The 4th floor showcases the Nagara fashion brand by Nakorn ‘Toi’ Samphantharak who shows clothes inspired by Thawan’s creations in a fashion show.

Letter to Aunty Ood

Many good things happened at the Baan Khao Kwai and created beautiful memories. Each day of the couple’s life together was filled with altruistic love. Asked which work is the most valuable to her, Aunty Odd said: “of course, it is my picture (the cartoon-like sketch of her). He didn’t draw me beautifully but he managed to get all details like my hairpin right.”

On the title of exhibition, she said nothing said it better than “missing”. “I can only think of this word as it describes my feelings since the day he died. I often heard Uncle Wan said ‘Love reveals itself,’ but I’ve never seen it. But now I am seeing it, as love and the feeling of missing someone take a physical shape here.”

What better invitation to all those who also miss Uncle Wan to share her experience and get to know some aspects of the artist that have never been publicly revealed.

If you go…

“Miss You Thawan Duchanee” is showing at The Queen’s Gallery, 101 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, Borwonniwet, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, daily except Wednesday from 10am to 7pm. Admission is 50 baht.

By Veena Thoopkrajae

Photo Courtesy of Miss You Thawan Duchanee’s organizer

Rare photo of Thawan Duthcanee plays guitar


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