Nice article/interview in The Nation, Tuesday, October 16th, on "Paintings from the Bangkok Night" show opening at FCCT on Friday October 19th, 7pm.......
Creatures of the night
Artist Chris Coles focuses on the bright lights and dark pulse of Bangkok's infamous nightlife
Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the appeal of places or things
that locals can be blind to. For Chris Coles, an American artist who has
lived in Bangkok on and off for more than a decade, the urban jungle is
the source of his inspiration.
Coles worked in the movie business for a quarter of a century and
travelled widely before buying a condo in Bangkok in the late '90s. He
says his time in the film industry, with set designers such as Stuart
Craig and filmmakers like Roger Deakins, heightened his appreciation and
awareness of the sights he encountered in Southeast Asia.
"It was a real eye-opener the first time coming here - visually dense
and the energy here. I got really interested in modern Asia. For a
Westerner, it's such a different universe."
Most farang, he says, are not used to all the motion and density they
initially encounter in the Thai capital. "Thais are quite relaxed and at
ease in a lot of dense visual information - holes in the sidewalk,
motorcycles, soi dogs, etc - but it overloads your senses. Most
Westerners are not used to that in the first year here."
For Coles, whose mother was an artist, just having a meal or a drink in
some notorious nightlife areas can be a rich visual feast. "For an
artist, it's like sitting next to Niagara Falls."
He talks about art with passion. He is big on the German expressionists
such as Emil Nolde, who painted scenes in Berlin in the 1920s, and sees
similarities to modern-day Bangkok, which he rates as "the real capital
of Southeast Asia" - a city of multiple cultural streams, great
infrastructure, and "tremendous visual intensity".
Coles uses colour with similar boldness - bright, vivid images, with
characters and scenes from "the noir side of the Bangkok night".
His book, "Navigating the Bangkok Noir", published last year by
Marshall Cavendish, portrays the diverse underbelly of life that makes
the capital so spicy and colourful.
He makes it sound like a hot tom yum of all the things conservative
locals would stir clear of - as his book says: "bargirls, punters,
ladyboys, rentboys, and the assorted cast of thugs, scammers,
traffickers, dealers, perverts, hitmen and the endless stream of
fugitives from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America,
not to mention Thailand itself".
Coles grew up in a fishing village in Maine on the US Atlantic coast.
At 17 he caught a bus to Los Angeles on the West Coast and worked in a
Mexican restaurant. The following year he was on a pineapple plantation
in Hawaii. Shortly after that he was in the West Australian outback,
before returning to the US to study literature at Brown University. He
journeyed around Kenya before travelling to London, teaching, and then
taking a course at Britain's national film school.
In the late '70s he got into the movie business, working as a production manager on the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve.
By 1995, when he came to Phang Nga to work on "Cutthroat Island", he
was a studio executive. Directed by Renny Harlin, the movie starring
Geena Davis and Matthew Modine was the biggest bomb in box-office
history, but it got him to Thailand.
With less interest in films, and his daughter then at university, he
was free to pursue his interest in art and live in Thailand.
Coles graduated from sketching to painting after doing art courses at
the Otis School in Los Angeles in 2002. He now paints about eight hours a
day at a studio off lower Sukhumvit Road.
"A lot of what I'm doing is coming out of the German expressionist
style and out of Nolde," he says. "I paint all day, have lunch or dinner
on the street or at a food court, and maybe go to the gym. At 10pm I'm
finished and wander around for a couple of hours. I might go to Saphan
Taksin, Sukhumvit, Ekamai or get the Skytrain somewhere."
What amazes him is the variety of people one can meet - and paint -
here. He talks of sitting and deconstructing a scene while having a bowl
of noodles on the sidewalk.
When painting, he likes to use strange lighting and will often focus on a person's face.
"I'm interested in what the face hides that's within, and how the same
person in the day, during the Bangkok night suddenly they're something
else - like someone set them on fire."
MEET THE MAN
Coles will feature new works in a show at the Foreign Correspondents Club, opening on Friday at 7pm.
Philip Cornwel-Smith, the author of "Very Thai", will give a short
introductory talk about how Bangkok's nightlife has been an inspiration
for many artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians.
For more details, see www.FCCThai.com
Labels: Bangkok Boys Town, Chris Coles, Creatures of the Night, expressionism, Expressionist art, FCCT, Jim Pollard, Ratchada, soi cowboy, Thaniya Plaza, The Nation