Weekly Local Biography

  Christian Develter

From October 29 until November 27, 2005, La Luna Gallery on Charoenrajd Road is featuring a solo exhibition by artist Christian Develter entitled “Daughters of the Dragon”.

A native of Belgium, Christian has produced a spectacular collection of large paintings of Japanese and Chinese women using strong, balanced colors and simple, uncluttered themes. He paints in oil and acrylic, or acrylic alone, and the paintings have dramatic texture as well as color. They are elegant and bawdy, powerful and flirtatious. Some are highly stylized portraits reminiscent of the Art Deco style, but some evoke an era of courtesans and geisha with downcast eyes and elegant clothing. And some are quite literally right out of the movies. I am particularly fond of the Chinese woman with 1930s wavy hair and feather boa, but must confess that works from a prior show were among my favorites. Violet Jazz from the Big Mamas collection simply stole my heart.

Christian came to Thailand from Belgium seven years ago at the request of friends who were working on design projects in Bangkok. They needed his help. I have heard it many times before, and so have you, but he says he simply fell in love with Thailand. He says it wasn’t just one thing that attracted him, but many. The culture was exotic and the people, of course, were friendly and welcoming. He has often experienced an underlying feeling of aggression in large western cities in Europe and the United States as though somehow he had wandered into the wrong neighborhood. But he doesn’t feel that in Thailand. He has been welcomed and accepted. He is an artist, and that seems to be a universal profession that rises above cultural differences.

He originally thought that he would divide his time between Belgium and Thailand, but before long found that he was not returning to Belgium as much as he had planned. His home in Antwerp had just been renovated and was receiving accolades, but the draw of this country was strong. And he came to completely dislike the climate in Belgium. Tropical Thailand was more comfortable. Now he rarely leaves Asia. He settled down in Thailand and began painting. He says that he paints Asian art but with a twist. He’s not Asian. He has a different perception from those who are from within the culture. Asia offers continuous inspiration, and a lot to absorb. As an artist, he finds the chaos of the Asian market exciting. Unlike the cleaned up, organized and sanitized markets of Singapore, the markets in Thailand are “organized chaos”. We both agree that they are cultural gems, and hope they will not be lost to modernization.

Christian’s family back in Belgium is in the retail fashion business, and he originally thought that he wanted to be a fashion designer. After studying at the Antwerp Fashion Academy, however, he realized that his real love was for painting. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in Belgium, but was immediately conscripted into the Belgium Army. Eight months later, he was relieved to emerge a civilian once again. Eight months of serving with far younger and less educated draftees were enough. The military, he said, disrupted his life and his art.

He went to work on art and design projects in Belgium, primarily interior design. And he painted. He bought his home, which was over 100 years old, and began to renovate it. The renovation completed, it has been featured in international magazines, a work of art and architecture. His interior design work has also been a topic of interest to magazines, and his artwork has been features in both international magazines and newspapers. After a few years of working in Belgium, his friends called and out he flew to Thailand.

His paintings have been exhibited in many countries, and particularly when Belgian diplomacy or culture offers the opportunity. He is often photographed with the Ambassador from Belgium, and his works were featured at the Oriental Palace to coincide with Crown Princess Astrid of Belgium’s visit to Thailand. His paintings were also displayed at the Siam Society to commemorate a century of positive relations between Thailand and Belgium. And, of course, he painted “The Little Mermaid” when Hans Christian Andersen’s 200th birthday anniversary was celebrated. But the Oriental Hotel and the Sukhothai have also exhibited his work, as has the Hutheesing Haveli in India. He is presently in negotiations with several other five star hotels for exhibitions.

We talk about teaching. Christian has declined routine teaching posts, finding them too confining. He takes the occasional private student, but is very careful not to allow anything to interfere with his travels. Competitions and shows take up much of his travel time. He will compete in an art competition in Hong Kong again this year. All of the artists must live in Asia but not necessarily be Asian.

Now he finds that Bangkok is sometimes “too much city”, and I can understand that. More and more, he comes to Chiang Mai. La Luna has been his primary gallery since it opened last year. He has located country property just outside of Chiang Mai in a beautiful valley that is large enough and quiet enough to allow him to paint without distraction. Distraction, he said, is anathema to painting.

The staff at La Luna was preparing for the grand opening of the exhibition as we talked, and we were surrounded by the “Daughters of the Dragon” paintings. More than one dragon also cast a wary eye on us, and enormous paintings of Muay Thai boxers were propped against the wall in the back of the hall. Posters have been made of some of the paintings, also postcards, and I know that more than one of each will be sold to partygoers. But the striking daughters and dragons will also find their way to homes around town, across the country and internationally. I look forward to meeting them there. Visit Christian Develter at www.develterart.com