What would you do if you had the time, the means and the passion? Write a book? Travel the world? Set up an orphanage?
Vichit Chaiwong, founder and past owner of the iconic Chiang Mai design company Gongdee Gallery, has spent the past two years indulging in his passion: art. After selling his business, he converted his ex-factory and warehouse into a massive art gallery - surely the largest art gallery in Chiang Mai - and spent the past 24 months collecting an astounding number of artworks from his artist friends to exhibit. The exhibition is in part his private collection on permanent display as well as an exhibition of his artist friends' works.
Hundreds of paintings and sculptures are beautifully exhibited in his labyrinth of a gallery set on five rai of landscaped gardens with stunning views of swaying rice fields and distant mountains in Samkampaeng. A caf?, the Studio Shop, offers light snacks, northern food and refreshments and charmingly showcases artworks from young students and Vichit's aspiring artist neighbours. A separate building - similarly gigantic - is Vichit's studio which features dozens of his own paintings.
"My concept is to be half a museum and half an art gallery," says Vichit. "There are not many buyers in Chiang Mai, but the Thai art scene is maturing and paintings are actually being resold as an investment for the first time, so I think that this will be of interest to serious collectors. But I am not too concerned about that. I want students to come and use our studio gallery as a learning tool and I want visitors to pop in just to absorb some fine art."
Vichit Studio is a wonderful new destination if you are looking for something different. A mere twenty minute or so drive from the city (the website has a good map), you can spend an hour or so looking at works on display, take in a lunch and get your weekly dose of culture!
The current exhibition will remain open for a full year and there are some very interesting works from famous artists such as photographer Angela Srisomwongwathana, Ruengrit Treyanurak with his frenetic and energetic oil canvases, U-Kaew Sanasen's Gaugainesque compositions as well as lesser known finds. If you wish to have Vichit himself take you around and show you about, simply drop him an email beforehand and if available he will be more than happy to explain the pieces on display. He also welcomes any student groups interested.
One of the artists in the exhibition is 74 year old Maurice Xarramo Kennel from Switzerland, whose sculptures add a dramatic and humorous flair to the exhibition. Born to parents who were both artists, Maurice attended London's famed St. Martin's School of Art and spent his life travelling to, living in and studying cultures ranging from the Hopi Indians in the US to the Mapuche and Tehulche of Patagonia to the Dogon and other peoples of Senegal and Mali.
His collection of "cyberheadz", comprises sculptures from teak powder, fibre glass, clay and redwood. Some are Egyptian inspired such as "Mayfretete", named in homage of his muse Maytaya (and once referred to by a fellow artist as a combination of Nefertiti and Avatar!), others come straight from Hollywood, such as the adorably tongue-in-cheek "Hollywood Actor (Retired)", which is an image of what Mickey Mouse would look like today at age 86 and a quirky creation fusing Frankenstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger "The Terminegger" (complete with an option for steam-release bolts by the side of the head so incense [when incensed] lit from within, can release its smoke in quite a dramatic manner).
The simple yet powerful "cyberheadz" are generally lacking in ornamentation or frills, instead focusing on strong shapes which aim to portray intensity. In spite of the powerful profiles, humour permeates, with many African "headz" featuring hip-hop cultural references such as the quirky "hippety hoppety head".
"I don't know why Vichit picked my works," Maurice keeps repeating with a shake of his head as we wander through the gallery. "Mine are so different from the others. I don't think that many buyers will like it, but I hope that people will come and enjoy it anyway."
Visit Maurice's web sites www.cyberheadz.net and www.xarramoheadz.blogspot.com to see some of his other works including "Afroferrari" (a mask inspired by the sleek lines and colour of the classic car), "Say Grace" in homage to Grace Jones, "Jethead" with its African/jet fighter vibe and "Shogun Princess" bringing a bit of the east to the west.
Photos by Saranyu Laipawat and Kyle Getz