A vast expanse of the planet’s surface, the world’s oceans are one of the last unexplored territories for man to unfurl and inevitably exploit. Since ancient times, the great blue seas have stirred the depths of the human imagination, invoking myths of the monstrous creatures like the Kraken, or more seductive mermaids and sirens. In Thailand’s rich spiritual and animistic iconography, the water dwelling Naga serpents are powerful protective deities.
A magnet for tourists, the foreboding reality of Thailand’s coastal waters is one of over fishing and increasing pollution from manmade detritus. Netted by negligent fisherman, the Irrawaddy dolphin is close to extinction and the graceful turtle fares little better in a bleak forecast for Asia’s aquatic species.
Continuing in his allegorical crusade to expose man’s spiritual malaise, previously manifested in the 2009 series Spiritual Disease, 31-year-old Kriangkrai Kongkhanun presents his latest prophetic woodblock prints. In Oceanic Wilderness, dorsal and tentacle entwine with pelagic and crustacean as they grapple with menacing anthropomorphic bestial forms. Unseen giants lurking beneath that cast analogies to our own personal demons, the artist also interweaves sperm and vaginal motifs in relation to consumption and reproduction.
The large-scale monochrome renderings are intricately carved rectilinear compositions that imply a journey of descent or ascent, depending on our interpretation. Evoking the symbolic decorative carvings featured in the architecture of Buddhist temples, the prints are infused with a contemporary countenance. Kriangkrai cleaves a cannibalistic devouring of souls in the relentless pursuit of individual aggrandisement. His hellish vision is symptomatic to much of Asia in its drive to develop and succeed.
Kriangkrai’s art maintains a firm tethering to his Buddhist heritage, with many Thai artists similarly pushing a morality conscious agenda. Invoking the surreal visions of Gothic painter Hieronymus Bosch, essentially his approach is struggle of good versus evil, that earthly desire and the ego negates spiritual enlightenment. Bound to the fundamentals of major world religions, this precept has pegged written and visual language for millennia.
Having attained a BFA in Printmaking (2003) from King Mongkut Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, in Bangkok, in 2006 Kriangkrai was awarded a scholarship by the Italian government to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, in Florence. His unique woodblock compositions have warranted inclusion in several international print expositions, biennials and triennials. Kriangkrai’s pertinent prints are proof of Thai art’s continuing proximity to craft traditions and techniques, and the contemporary currency instilled upon otherwise marginal forms.
Steven Pettifor, Steven is a British born art writer and curator based in Bangkok