Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tom Vater reviews "Navigating the Bangkok Noir".....

Tom Vater, veteran SE Asia writer/journalist and author of the recently published "Sacred Skin - Thailand's Spirit Tattoos", wrote an interesting review of "Navigating the Bangkok Noir" which appeared in The Devil's Road, a lively blog on all things "noir". Here's an excerpt and a link...............

from The Devil's Road:

".......Navigating the Bangkok Noir, a book of paintings by American artist Chris Coles, takes a different route into Bangkok’s underbelly. This series of expressionist paintings in book form, published by Marshall Cavendish and accompanied by sensitive and insightful captions by the artist, somehow manages to take us to the same places that the Bangkok hacks frequent without falling for the same cliches. Perhaps painting is a better medium to portray the sadness and beauty, the darkness and the occasional rays of bright shining light – in short the unearthly glow of the Thai capital – than the written word. Perhaps, because Thailand prides itself on its anti-intellectualism, Coles’ images transcend the prostitute Disneyland of countless wasted pulp novels and bring some real dignity and, most importantly, substance to its subjects.

Coles’ paintings have a bitter-sweet glow all of their own, taking us down the crummy sois, letting us look at the city from a street dog’s perspective (who is really a German sex tourist, we are told), helping us understand that the world is unfair, and that as soon as it gets dark, unfairness goes at a premium in the City of Angels. The artist manages a difficult hat trick. His night girls are beautiful and tragic at the same time. His johns are as gross as in real life and yet they have charisma. His world is sleazy, sure, but it exists and the artist has a gentle way of explaining why it has a right to do so, just as much as any other world out there.

There is reason to paint these people – that appears to be the central premise of Coles’ work – and the artist knows how to pick his characters, men and women of an inconsequential neon-netherworld that exists primarily because it offers an escape from the equally sordid and boring but less exotic real world its inhabitants came from. The girls leave their villages because girls have very very little opportunity in Thailand and the men fly in from around the world because they can no longer cope with their lives and loves and prefer to pay for female (or otherwise) company or are so lonely that they will accept semi-literate rice farmers as MCs providing psychiatric discourse on the hang-ups of the western world.

Chris Coles catches the nuances, the small pains and tiny losses and gains that are made each night on Sukhumvit, Bangkok’s main downtown thoroughfare: he captures the tide of emotional refuse that washes up on the Thai capital’s pavements. The women emerge with dignity intact, while the men don’t emerge at all. They are what they are, empty, broken human beings who roll around in it.

Navigating the Bangkok Noir is an excellent introduction to Southeast Asia’s Interzone, to the black patches on the global map of capitalist indifference, and to the lost opportunities of thousands of young Thai women who get screwed, both literally and metaphorically, day in, day out, by their government, by society, by the cops, by peer pressure and by foreigners. I don’t see this book in the Top Ten of the Ministry of Culture any time soon. It’s got too much soul......."

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