The beauty and complexity of
Thai Buddhist Art – plus a great meal
A monthly series of talks to be given at Café Pandau began on
January 27 with a fascinating and informative lecture accompanied by slides,
given by the highly respected academic and researcher, Carol Stratton. Both
Carol, and the lecture series, were introduced to the audience by Carol
Beauclerk, who remarked that, ‘Café Pandau is a great place in which to
experience evenings of intellectual attainment and delicious quantities of
home-cooked organic food.’ What more could we ask for at 450 baht,
especially as it included a donation to the Single Mothers’ Project?
Carol Stratton has been researching Thai Buddha images for nearly 40 years,
ever since she saw her first Thai Buddha image and was amazed at her own
reaction of awe, delight and curiosity. The experience led her to join the
then newly-formed National Museum Volunteers, attending their study groups
and lectures over the next six years. Frustrated by the lack of solid
written information on Thai Buddhist art, she and her friend Miriam McNair
decided to remedy the situation, at first envisaging an 8-volume series on
the art of Thailand, beginning in prehistory and ending at the present time.
After realising that their two writing styles were completely different, a
new modus operandi was conceived, in which both travelled together to sites
of the mid 13th to 16th century Sukhothai period. This, with extensive
research and many photographs, resulted in ‘The Art of Sukothai,’ published
in 1976 by the Oxford University Press. In the same year, the two friends
began work on their next book, covering the Buddhist arts of northern
Thailand. Sadly, before the book was finished, Miriam died at the early age
of 45 of a brain tumour. Later, Carol began work again on the manuscript,
and completed the book, ‘Buddhist Sculpture of Northern Thailand,’ which was
published in 2004 to much acclaim.
In her talk, Carol focused mainly on local images, introducing her subject
by asking her audience how many of them owned a Buddha image, which more
than half did.
She continued with a brief history of the life of the Sakyamuni Buddha,
relating it to the stylised images which have representing him throughout
the ages. Slides showing carved wooden window shutters at Chiang Mai’s Wat
Buparaj, which depict the Buddha’s life from birth to death, were used to
tell the extraordinary story of a royal prince who achieved enlightenment
and founded the most compassionate way of life ever proposed as a solution
to the problems and dilemmas in human lives.
Next, Carol described the four, postures depicted in all Thai Buddha images;
seated, standing, walking and lying down, illustrated by a number of
stunning slides of various Northern Thai images, several of which can be
seen in Chiang Mai temples. Perhaps the most beautiful of the larger images
is the huge Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang, depicted lying down. At Wat Jed Yot,
a series of 9 large Buddha images, depicted in all 4 positions, represent
the 9 astrological planets. They also represent the 7 days of the week –
Wednesday and Thursday each being counted as two days – as used in
astrological divination based on birth times and days. Many other beautiful
images were shown, all used to illustrate particular styles in use at
particular places and times in history. Interesting details, such as the
occasional casting and inserting of metal intestines and organs into the
bodies of certain images, and the fact that, in Thailand, Buddha images are
ranked, as are people, held the audience fascinated until the end of Carol’s
talk. The highest-ranked Buddha image in Chiang Mai is the Crystal Buddha at
Wat Chedi Luang, which is only shown to devotees during the Songkran
Following the talk, the audience were treated to a generous spread of
home-cooked, organic and totally delicious food, served in the peaceful and
natural surroundings of Café Pandau’s garden. A time to talk, and enjoy good
food, with friends and new acquaintances, and to give some thought to a man
who, 2,500 years ago in the foothills of the Himalayas, realised the truth
of what mankind could become.
Old Chiang Mai in photographs – a unique opportunity
Surely, most of us have wondered what our city looked like even 20
years ago, but what about 100 years ago? This February through April we will
have a unique opportunity to satisfy our curiosity, as the US Consulate,
together with the Lanna Architecture Centre at Chiang Mai University’s
Faculty of Architecture, are concluding the year-long celebrations of the
175th anniversary of Thai-US relations with a photographic exhibition of
local life and scenes from 100 years ago.
The exhibition, sponsored by Le Méridien, and entitled ‘A distant mirror – a
record of old Chiang Mai,’ will run from February 21 to April 24 at the
Lanna Architecture Centre, located at the intersection of Ratchadamnoen and
Prapoklao Roads, and will open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The photographs to
be shown have been carefully preserved in the collection of the United
States Library of Congress, and depict life in Chiang Mai during the early
years of the 20th century. The official opening will be on February 20,
co-hosted by U.S. Consul General Michael Morrow and Dr. Ekkachai Mahaek,
Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Chiang Mai University.
‘Abstract Reality’ at Galerie Panisa
The next few days will be art-lovers’ last chance to view an
exhibition featuring works by a well-known local artist, Auxchanok Chirakul.
The show, ending on February 9, is being hosted by Galerie Panisa on Mahidol
Road. The chosen works illustrate the artist’s appreciation of the power of
nature in a developmental way. From the impressionistic ‘Ang-Kaew,’ an oil
on canvas of a lake in which is reflected the surrounding rich green of the
hills and the soft purple of the distant mountains, to my personal favourite
‘Outside my window,’ again a large oil on canvas, serenely abstract in its
composition and colour.
Auxchanok Chirakul is an artist who, like many before him, has been
energised by the power of nature. At a young age, he was inspired by the
French impressionists, later to be further spurred on by the scenery –
inside and out – of the Chiang Mai University campus where he studied. He
was astonished and thrilled to be part of the Faculty of Fine Arts – all the
while, wallowing in the natural beauty surrounding the campus and the city.
Because of his appreciation of what he saw and felt, Auxchanok has since
travelled to seas and beaches, fields and paddies, and mountain ranges
throughout Northern Thailand. In every place, he found colour and exquisite
beauty unmatched by anything man-made. More than that, he discovered an
inner serenity that inspires his work, along with a simple way of life that
brings him joy and happiness. His realisation was this: Man is nothing,
compared to the huge, natural world. Human beings are inconsequential –
unimportant in the big scheme of life. Nature rules.
Auxchanok hopes that his artistic renderings will inspire us to find peace
and contentment, uniting each person with a natural beauty that is so much
bigger than we are.
Some Enchanted Evening - Pianists Old and New
On Saturday 24, the he Saisuree Hall at Payap University was the fine
setting for an extraordinary evening of talent, enchantment and delight. In
conjunction with the University, the Piano Club of Chiang Mai presented a
wide range of classical music with pianists old and new spanning 60 years.
The youngest of these were two kindergarten girls who astonished the
audience with their piano duet arrangement of the old American folk song,
Turkey in the Straw. Earlier, two 8th grade
high school students had delighted us with three Dvorak Slavonic Dances
– with the young performers themselves attired in traditional Czech dress.
Other soloists performed pieces by Beethoven, Millward, Bach, Schumann,
Brahms, Villa-Lobos, Mompou and Chopin. This was a real feast of music,
spanning approximately four times the age span of the musicians themselves.
And, in the middle of the concert, came the maestro and teacher himself
(quite naturally the oldest, but most distinguished of course), Dr Bennett
Lerner, who gave us a polished and exciting rendition of Alexander
Tcherepnin’s Sonatine Romantique.
The real enchantment of this wonderful evening was centered on the fact that
all these performers are students (barring a couple of teachers), who live
and study here in Chiang Mai. In this instance, they were all students of Dr
Bennett or a couple of his friends and they performed with outstanding
vigour, confidence and determination. Their total devotion to their
instrument was obvious from the first strident chords of the opening
Beethoven Sonata to the gloriously intricate fingering and
performance of the closing Chopin Ballade – and what a marvelous
interpretation this was of that great piece of romantic music. The playing
of the waltz-like main melody evoked the elegance of the 19th century
splendour of the Place des Vosges in Paris, where Chopin lived for most of
his creative life, painting a clear picture of its noble architecture and
Overall, the choice of music for the evening was an astonishing mix of
moods. The hauntingly beautiful nostalgia of Brahms set against the eerie
moodiness of Villa-Lobos and Mompou, the leaping rhythms of the Dvorak and
Millward complementing the lyrical beauty of the Schumann and the directness
and forcefulness of the Bach. And each performer, whether solo or in duet,
had not only rehearsed and practiced these pieces so well, but also gave us
delightful insights as their own interpretations of the music shone through.
This really was ‘some enchanted evening’ and, for once, I am happy to say
‘across a crowded room,’ with a large, appreciative and highly supportive
audience, making this event such a rewarding experience for these fine
performers, young or old.