There were several times that I followed the artistic works of interesting individuals in Thailand. Wichien Wongsupalak is one of them. On one
occasion, he and other two artists, Somchai Wacharasombat and Maitree Homtong, came to join a recreational activity “Earth-ART," a joint pioneer art project
with Mae Hong Son Province to experiment in the creation of many arts that are suitable for the way of "life on the hill." This is one of the royal development
projects for young students who work in their own villages in Pang Ung, Pang Tong and Pong Daeng.
I was delighted to interview Wichien Wongsupalak after following his works and talking to him several times. Looking at
his paintings, I know that he is both an artist and an environmentalist. He always records his time of work and the
time of travel. Apart from being a painter, he is also a poet who constantly writes touching poems to explain the meanings of his
paintings. Most of these paintings have larger frames such as 150 x 180 cm. He used to paint lush green plants and beautiful
flowers but at the moment he is drawing pictures containing falling or torn leaves because they amazingly give him new
inspiration to create new works. This year is very important to him after his field trip to China. He came to teach art for hill
-tribe people in the north of Thailand and welcomed foreign artists. His latest work is to draw a book cover for “The King’s
Beauty Land” which mentions the royal development project at Pang Tong, Mae Hong Son Province.
Here is the brief interview
JY: Please tell us about you experience as an artist?.
WW: It is really difficult to be a Thai artist if the mind of that artist is not stable enough because he doesn’t have salary or
customers who buy his artworks or isn’t supported by an honorable educational institute. On the downside, however,
sometimes customers and the artist have some sort of mutual benefits. Because this is a bad practice in my view, I personally
respect an artist who truly works for art without salary. He can commit himself to his dream fully. With love and faith in art, he
is still working despite any hardship he experienced. One such individual I know is Pratuang Emjaroen, Thai national artist (Fine Arts) 2005.
When I studied at Po Chang School, I used to visit the house of Pratuang Emjaroen and this interview was published in the Siamrath daily newspaper.
When I graduated and received an advanced diploma, I worked at the head office of Srinakorn Bank (Suan Mali Branch) for
about two years. During that time I was an outstanding employee and worked with a fellow senior from Po Chang who came to work at this bank as well. Although I was a bank
employee, I did not abandon my art knowledge and skills and I was still the columnist who wrote about art in Siamrath. I
understood that if I led my life like this, there was no chance for me to follow my dream to create many kinds of art. I would like
to talk about my two friends who shared the same ideal as mine. The first one is Keatisak Plitaporn who quit his teaching career
to create a painting “Growing cassava in coconut garden” in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province in the South of Thailand. The
second one is Jumrat Ratana who gave up studying at the faculty of Decorative Arts, Silpakorn University. They and I decided to
create more paintings on Doi Khun Tan Mountain for once. We were curious about how it would be if we were really working in
the natural environment. This event was the founding of the Tawan group of artists in1983.
JY: I would like to know about your personal satisfaction.
WW: For over 30 years, I met many different kinds of people in all professions. I saw their happiness, sadness, success and
failure. This could happen to an artist too. The difference is that the artists can do anything they want for their dream freely but
many people in other professions have to do things by the order of their superiors. Every career is important, even the artist who
has no salary can create good works of art miraculously.
JY: What do you think about Thai society in general or the use of media art you created?
WW: I remember the saying of one person 20 years ago. His words encouraged me to think more. He said: “Wichien, in Thai
society art is in the 25th hour of the day. This is unlike foreign countries where art is in 1st hour.” At first I did not understand
it at all but now I can. There are 24 hours in a day. There is no artist in the 25th hour. Is it in the twilight zone? I guess not.
Although it is really difficult, I never changed my mind or gave up. I am always ready for my dream and make a living as a
designer in the publishing business. My work is from my dream and not from any order.
Actually artworks are valuable but artists create them to be far beyond any evaluation. I gave many of my paintings to more
than 10 charitable organizations to be printed and sold to earn more donations for those organizations. This was well received. I
also made an auction of my paintings and donated over 800,000 Baht to Thammanart Foundation for a project to grow more
trees in the Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province 25 years ago. The last 30 years I donated some money to Thai Red Cross
Society to build an Intensive Care Unit for pediatrics at Chulalongkorn Hospital when the construction plan was just
drawn on paper. Moreover, I and my friends who were artists went to teach art to children and youth in many organizations as I believe that art is always valuable.
JY: Please tell us about your personal story and awards you have received.
WW: I was born in 1956 in the South of Thailand in the Bang Nop sub-district, Hua Sai District, Nakorn Si Thammarat
Province. When I studied in high school at Pak Phanang District, Nakorn Si Thammarat Province, I really loved to see the
paintings at the cinema. I tried to sculpt small clay miniatures of cows and buffaloes. I used to make shadow puppets. One day I
went to see a shadow play and with strong curiosity I climbed the stage to see the puppet master performing the shadow play.
After I finished high school, I came to Bangkok but I could not decide what to study further. My older sister who was a teacher
recommended that I study art at Po Chang School. The first year I could not get into that school because I came from the
countryside and had no basic art knowledge. I was so disappointed but I went to study at Archivasilp Art Vocational
School for a year. Every day at noon I went to the teacher’s room to draw statues until I was satisfied with my art skill. Eventually
I passed the entrance test of Po Chang School as I hoped. With serious training in painting as well as gathering more
information about art from books, movies and activity news from art and culture, I took part in the yearly art competition at Po
Chang school and won awards against art seniors every time since I enrolled in the diploma and advanced diploma programs there.
Something that impresses me the most is that my works are liked by many people. Around 30 years ago I wrote a project to
do some art activity for children at the Monthian Hotel. In addition, I used to make some paintings with Ajarn Nakorn
Pongnoi for Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra Mahidol including painting sets of “Uang Sae Kab Khun Wirangka” and
“Sikharin Ranjuan”. These sets of work gave me a great deal of satisfaction and happiness. Currently, I am working on a
painting to be used as the book cover for “The King’s Beauty Land” which is about the royal development project at Pang
Tong, Mae Hong Son Province. I am very proud that people will see the true value of my work.
No matter how high above clouds, he never gives up.
No matter how low above the top of the hill, he never forgets.
Without water, forests or lands, he provides them for us.
It is very fortunate for Thai people to have the king.
His kindness is like the rain from the heaven.
Pouring on the mind of all Thai people
Long live the king.
From my own experiences, people who can be successful must enable four things:
They must do all these things all the time like breathing. This gives me the clearest goal I've ever had
JY: And finally?
WW: Art is within all of us. It is not in an ivory tower. Everyone
can reach art if they understand it and I believe the world will be a better place. Lastly, we can teach people to know art, but do not teach them to be artists.
Next year 2016 may be a good time for my Solo exhibition because now I have my own paintings to tell the story of my
beloved country to everyone.