Monday, May 27, 2013

Farang Consultant in Thailand

"Farang Consultant in Thailand" - Chris Coles

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Nana Plaza Neon Bangkok Night

"Nana Plaza Neon Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bangkok Soi Dog at Suzie Wong Agogo

"Bangkok Soi Dog at Suzie Wong Agogo" - Chris Coles

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NGO Guy at Hillary Bar Soi Nana

"NGO Guy at Hillary Bar Soi Nana" - Chris Coles

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Farang Fashion Designer at Q Bar

"Farang Fashion Designer at Q Bar" - Chris Coles

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bangkok Eyes piece on the Bangkok Noir Movement

Bangkok Noir - Not so Black and White
Noir - as applied to the arts - is a word, a genre, a movement that even many of the purveyors of same find hard to define.   And when it is applied to our local version, "Bangkok Noir", it sometimes becomes impossible to get a clear answer as to what the term encompasses.   However, the one universal, inescapable element is it's link (to whatever greater or lesser degree) to the "Bangkok Night Scene"... 

Noir is simply "black" in French and is as old as the Modern French language.   However "Noir" as applicable to an art genre, a school of Expressionism or, say, a "movement", goes back to exactly 1946 when French critic Nino Frank first coined the term "Film Noir".   He used the term to describe certain Hollywood films of that era that, generally, were typified by stark cinematic production, a harsh realism -often with bleak "Gothic" backdrops- whose cynical, jaded characters were caught up in edgy, often sinister plots. 

Chris Coles - seemingly channeling the German Expressionists, yet all the while capturing the realities of Bangkok's neon and black light Night scene.
In the decades since Frank coined the term, the 'intellectual' debate has continued to boil over as to whether Film Noir is a true genre, or is it, perhaps, a mere meld of earlier German Expressionist cinematography and "Gothic Fiction?  Or is it just a twist on the old fashioned "melodrama"?   Or is it some other derivative or hybrid?   Nevertheless, in spite of it's myriad detractors, Film Noir has survived not only the onslaught of criticism, but the test of time - not even those holdout cinematic / literary Luddites are able to ignore, or pretend they do not understand what is meant by "Film Noir".

20-20 night vision :   Ralf Tooten - photographer, chronicler, capturing Bangkok's midnite-till-dawn denizens...
It is relevant to note that early 20th Century Film Noir cinematic productions were, almost exclusively, deemed to be "noir" long after their appearance in theaters - those producing these films did not consider themselves Film Noir directors, producers, etc.   This includes many films that were made prior to Nin Frank's coining of the phrase.   Some examples of those very early black and white films now considered to be classic Film Noir are Private Detective (1933), and the erstwhile "horror classics" Dracula (1931) and The Mummy (1932) whose "noir" production values and command of "mood" are worshiped to a greater extent than the tales of fright themselves.   It follows, and comes as no big surprise that the "hard-boiled" detective fiction of Raymond Chandler (Phillip Marlowe stories) and Daschell Hammet (Sam Spade) were made into movies - and that these films have been, in turn, and in due time, referred to as Film Noir

Frank Miller's superb modern day Film Noir classic Sin City - spawned from his Dark Horse Books graphic novels.   
And there is valid reason for not rushing forward to dub a film with the label "Film Noir".   A motion picture was, is, and always will be judged by how we 'see' it in the morning, and what we think of it next week, or watching it again years from now. It is not just a simple sum of it's parts.   It is not enough to make a film in harshly lit black and white, with borderline characters entangled in a story of intrigue and hardship and deception with a less than 'happy ending' and then say, "This is Noir".   While Film Noir is not a "psychological drama" per se, it shall behoove the director to create the psychological backdrop which, in turn, must create the dark "mood" in the viewer / reviewer.   Film Noir therefore exists in the viewer, not on the screen.   This being said, it would be presumptuous in the extreme for a creator of such works to self-proclaim, "I have produced Noir". 

As if to validate it's own raison d'etre, "noir-ness" (if I can invent a new word) has not stayed in film - in the example of Chandler, Hammett and other "hard-boiled" authors, works which spawned several Films Noir are often in turn categorized as "noir" themselves.   Again, in retrospect, another such example is the dark, dime novels of the 1930's whose fringe-sociopath protagonists (as typified by The Shadow and it's several imitators), have since come to be classified as a part of the "noir" genre.   As have many of their (natural) successors; today's Graphic Novels (Sin City comes to mind most handily). 

The Shadow, Walter B Gibson's prototype pulp fiction series was also a forerunner of today's Graphic Novel.   It was widely read in the 1930's, and was to influence many others' writings.   It has been recognized, in hindsight, as one of the early American 'noir' writings.
While all "noir" is derivative - and has grown out of, and from, Film Noir, it seems this concept - this genre - has far outgrown it's film origins.   This "philosophy of mood" has been employed not only to categorize film and graphic / printed literature but has more recently been applied to the arts of photography and painting.   The works of a given photographer are "noir".   The paintings of a given painter are "noir"

Which brings us back to the heart of the matter; today's Bangkok Noir "movement".   In that today's vision of "Noir" as expressed in the Bangkok Noir movement and the Bangkok Night Scene are invariably intertwined to a greater or lesser extent, Midnight Hor has been, and remains a keen observer.   One of our primary, and inescapable, observations is that this relatively recent movement is a coordinated effort by several of it's proponent 'authors' to create public awareness and a certain "mystique" about several of their works, paintings and photography. 

Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon introduced Sam Spade, the prototype 'hard-boiled' detective, to American literature.   He was to influence many other writers, up to and including today's.   His book -and others that followed, like Raymond Chandler's (Phillip Marlowe) stories- have been made into movies.   These films are viewed today as prime examples of Film Noir.
But putting aside any presumptuousness on the part of the current Bangkok Noir advocates, it appears that a select number of these pretenders to the "noir" throne will in fact "make it to the future" - at least with respect to their works being accepted as having contributed to the Noir genre.   And it can be said that there are others who appear to be along for the ride, hoping the Noir wave will take them all the way to shore.   And in fairness, it can also be said that the jury is still out on one or two others. 

We caveat that we have no special foreknowledge (our crystal ball being broken), and that our opinions are just that: opinions.   Nevertheless, in our view, we see three individuals who stand apart from the rest of the Bangkok Noir pack.   The most important shared attribute : they produce original works on Bangkok, and secondarily, they also maintain a realistic view of Bangkok's "other side" (rather than the all-too-common, all-too-cliched blanket-cynicism seen elsewhere in the marketplace). 

The aforementioned three are listed herein: 
One is an author : Christopher G.Moore
One is an artist : Chris Coles
One is a photographer : Ralf Tooten

We see these three individuals, and their disparate works 'holding up' - withstanding the test of time (without prejudice to other aspects of their works), and likely -sooner or later- to be viewed as Noir

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Farang at Lollipop Agogo Nana Plaza

"Farang at Lollipop Agogo Nana Plaza" - Chris Coles

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Indian Guy at Nana Liquid Disco

"Indian Guy at Nana Liquid Disco" - Chris Coles

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mamasan in the Bangkok Night

"Mamasan in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles

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Farang Backpacker Khao San Road

"Farang Backpacker Khao San Road" - Chris Coles
Living in a self-contained narcissistic world of recreational drugs, bucket cocktails spiked with DEET, low-cost Guest Houses, banana pancakes, non-directed idleness and organic sandals, the Khao San Road backpacker talks mainly to other farang backpackers, spends hours each day hunched over his iPAD or online at an internet cafe chatting with friends all over the world or planning his next destination.......he likes to call himself a traveller instead of a tourist or, god-forbid, and despite the fact that he has regular sex while a tourist, a Sexpat or Sex Tourist....he imagines he lives in a state of non-materiality but carries an ATM/Credit Card right next to his 1st World passport, visiting the nearest ATM machine to take out a hundred dollars, twice the average working Thai's weekly salary (for 6, 12 hour days), whenever the need arises.....the only Thais he talks to are Guest House staff, tuktuk/taxi guys or waiters in backpacker cafes........he could be anywhere, anyplace....India, Nepal, Goa, Bali, Sihanoukville, Ho Chi Minh, Luang Prabang....wherever the cost-of-living is low and the visas are easy.......

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Pakistani Guy Soi 3 Sukhumvit in the Bangkok Night

"Pakistani Guy Soi 3 Sukhumvit in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
Sukhumvit Soi 3, a world hub for Muslim sex tourism....from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey and wherever.......sometimes still wearing robes and accompanied by a couple of wives shrouded in black....Halal restaurants and cafes....plenty of massage places, snooker places, music places, disco places, lady barber places, all kinds of sex delivery places....ladyboys, middle-aged bleached out, often over-weight Russian hookers from Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Vladivostok......way-too-hefty Thai hookers.....down the side sois, a few Muslim Marriage Bureaus doing short-term marriage contracts for underage Muslim girls from Thailand's Deep's a Muslim Sex Tourist Paradise.........

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Young Italian Guy in the Bangkok Night

"Young Italian Guy in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
For a young Italian guy growing up in Italy, getting laid is always a thrill and something he will never turn Thailand, it's more like ordering pizza......if you have the dough, the pizza gets delivered, no matter how slim or fat, handsome or ugly, perfumed or smelly, stylish or slovenly the customer.....sometimes it takes young Italian guys in Bangkok a couple of years to figure it out........

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thai Lady in the Bangkok Night

"Thai Lady in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
To survive and prosper, a Thai Lady must be constantly focused, always diligent and never careless......around her the infinite chaos and pressure of Thailand......a husband who is sure to have girlfriends, go to prostitutes, perhaps even has a 2nd wife and family......who might abandon her and her children at any moment without alimony, child support or endlessly demanding set of in-laws and parents.....children often on the verge of lassitude and entropy and entitlement.....a Thai Lady is always fighting the odds, over-coming obstacles......without the tenacity, will-power and perseverance of Thai ladies, Thailand would cease to exist...........

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Thailand Influential Person

"Thailand Influential Person" - Chris Coles
For a Thailand Influential Person, the Bangkok Night is a wonderous and bountiful spectacle, a flowering and fruitful garden, an infinite source of wealth and power........

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German Art Dealer in the Bangkok Night

"German Art Dealer in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
He breezes through Southeast Asia once a year to check out the art scene in Bangkok, Hanoi and Rangoon......nothing too serious and a little fun along the in Berlin is so peaceful and routine....he needs something different from time to time.....something with an edge, a bit noir, and Southeast Asia fits the bill to a "T"........

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hi-So Thai Guy in the Bangkok Night

"Hi-So Thai Guy in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
He wears his smile like a nice suit, everyday, day after day, no matter how he's actually feeling....happy or sad, who cares......the important thing is to never stop pretending.......

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Thai-Chinese Girl at Route 66 Club RCA

"Thai-Chinese Girl at Route 66 Club RCA" - Chris Coles
Young and beautiful, porcelain white skin, highly intelligent.....unlimited funds for her education provided by her family to lift her to a world standard of knowledge and effectiveness......fifty thousands dollars for each year at the university in the U.S. not to speak of the years of private schools that got her ready.....she can pick whichever high-end Bangkok Thai-Chinese guy she wants.......but what if none of them suit her......

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jim Algie Reviews "Navigating the Bangkok Noir"

Bangkok's True Colours At Night
Bangkok at night is one of the world's gaudiest cities. Neon signs for karaoke bars and massager parlours compete with the fluorescent tubes in restaurants and bars, and lurid goings-on in establishments catering to the world's oldest obsession.

Chris Coles has brought out these true colours of the nocturnal capital in the series of paintings that make up Navigating the Bangkok Noir.

What some may see as a new (and equally virulent) strain of German expressionism - which the artist himself happily admits to - that speaks to the decadence of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic and the Thai capital of today - these watercolor-on-paper images are also coloured by pop art references, which allows Coles plenty of leeway to satirize as he seduces.

In comic-loving Asia, some of these subjects become caricatures of themselves, while some of these images lampoon that very same cartoon culture ("Cartoon" being a popular Thai nickname for girls) and the kind of kitsch that gives Bangkok noir a comical air.

Almost stripped of their identities, the subjects of these paintings, the bar babes and the customers, the boozers and malcontents, blend together in a way that suggests dehumanization.

But the captions allow the painter to paint these subjects with a little more depth, arousing sympathy for the prostitutes and setting the scenes with vignettes about the customers who are anything but stereotypical lechers: "Timothy's been in Bangkok for ten years, the Director of Asia Marketing for a leading luxury goods company. He spends his days in a gleaming office tower, reviewing the last campaigns, checking demographics, chasing down manufacturers of counterfeit goods. He's built an Asian luxury goods empire and made a few million along the way. A regular at Pegasus, the Mamasan knows him well, as do many of the two hundred girls. He brings out-of-town clients there, as well as the guys from headquarters. The smiles, beauty, and style leave them dazzled, dizzy and grateful, an ultimate boys night out."

The wordsmithing side of Bangkok's night strife has been well documented, but Chris Coles is painting the town with different brushstrokes and shades of gaudiness in this book and his exhibitions.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Young NGO Guy at WTF in the Bangkok Night

"Young NGO Guy at WTF in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
In the heart of Bangkok's trendy Thonglor District, WTF bar/cafe/gallery is a beacon for well-heeled young Thais either going or having gone to universities in North America, UK, Europe or Australia and youngish Expats from the West trying to do Bangkok without the noir......everybody's hip, well-intentioned, alert and educated....lots of female Expats too, happy to have found at least one place in the Bangkok Night where not only are they welcome but actually noticed, approached and appreciated...........

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Rainbow Agogo in the Bangkok Night

"Rainbow Agogo in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
Mainly Japanese guys working in Thailand....not the hi-end executives, more the mid-level and factory engineer level guys.......looking for cute Thai girls, dressed and designed for Japanese eyes......silicon breasts, cute little-girl costumes, giant cartoon-like contact lenses, lightened hair.........600 baht for the bar fine, a few hundred for drinks, 2500 to 3000 baht for the 5 minutes of condom sex at a nearby Short Time compared to the going rates in Tokyo and Osaka.......

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Rent Boy in the BangkokNight

"Rent Boy in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
His customers come from all over Asia and all over the world, wandering around Bangkok's gay sex district along Surawong and Silom, looking for some night-time action.  Some are handsome, some not handsome, some slim, some fat, some old, some pretty young.....high income and low income, good job, not-so-good job, sane, normal to dysfunctional and fucked up......

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Soi Cowboy

"Soi Cowboy" - Chris Coles
Above the entrance to Soi Cowboy, at the heart of Bangkok's pulsating night life, three for Soi Cowboy Entertainment itself, meaning the 50 or so gogo bars and the 5,000 or so bargirls/dancers......another shared by Singha Beer, one of Thailand's largest corporations owned by one of Thailand's richest families, and Manchester United Football, the world's most valuable sports franchise......and the last from the Thonglor Royal Thai Police who control the district which includes Soi Cowboy....declaring the soi to be a Safety Zone, whatever that might mean............

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Freelancer Girl at Q Bar

"Free lancer Girl at Q Bar" - Chris Coles
She works Q Bar's upscale venue on Soi 11 almost every night....mingling with the Expats who've got Bangkok jobs and condos as well as the hi-end tourist crowd....on the lookout for likely targets and ready to strike.....

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Arabian Nights Disco in the Grace Hotel

"Arabian Nights Disco in the Grace Hotel" - Chris Coles
It gets busy around midnite, fills to the brim with Arab sex tourists, over-weight Thai prostitutes, Russian women from Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Moldova...not to mention a cadre of battle-hardened ladyboys.....Arab pop music.....a couple of belly dancers...plenty of alcohol and drugs...........all part of the Grace Hotel's many delivery platforms to service the insatiable hunger and desire of Muslims from all over the Middle East and Africa to consume the rich cultural tapestry of the Lower Sukhumvit District of the Bangkok Night Year of the Buddha 2555.........

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European Gentleman Cruising Khao San Road in the Bangkok Night

"European Gentleman Cruising Khao San Road in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
He's looking for female western backpackers fucked up on drugs and alcohol, burdened with low self-esteem, living idle lives as they move aimlessly around the SE Asia Lonely Planet circuit.........

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bangkok Noir Poet John Gartland

"Bangkok Noir Poet John Gartland" - Chris Coles
His poems set in the milieu of Bangkok Night are elliptical, ambiguous and thoughtful....rather than pretend the Bangkok Night's noir reality does not exist, he confronts it, transforming its darkness into light......

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Baccara Bar Bangkok 3AM Friday Night

"Baccara Bar Bangkok 3AM Friday Night" - Chris Coles
3AM and another Friday night is winding down at Baccara Bar on Soi Cowboy in Bangkok.....two hundred and fifty or so girls barfined........over a thousand customers from all over Asia and the world....a million baht plus going through the till........the power of the Bangkok Night.......

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Friday, May 03, 2013

Farang Who Knows Too Much in the Bangkok Night

"Farang Who Knows Too Much in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
Thirty years in SE Asia, learning the ropes, getting deeper and deeper into the layers of reality, the infinity of illusion and pretend, the complex ambiguities, endless circumstances and shading........he's a Farang Who Knows Too longer smiling but accepting that there is no other part of the world he can ever live.........

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Noir Journalist & Author in the Bangkok Night

"Noir Journalist & Author in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
He writes about the noir goings on in Bangkok and Southeast Asia, never short of new material, always on the lookout, always processing, always hard at's an infinite task.......

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Lower Sukhumvit After Midnite

"Lower Sukhumvit After Midnite" - Chris Coles
After midnite along Lower Sukhumvit in Bangkok, women from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Africa wait for men from all over the world to take notice, stop, chat, and then offer them cash for sex in one of the nearby short-time's not Disneyland nor is it for the faint of heart.......

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Off-beat Review of Navigating the Bangkok Noir by Biscotti

Chris Coles’ Paintings of Bangkok’s Working Girls

While surfing around the net recently I came across the paintings of an American born artist who has dedicated considerable time (and probably considerable dollars) to documenting the nightlife at Bangkok’s numerous Go-Go bars, strip clubs, pick up joints and hostess bars. And the documentations he produces are in the form of colourfully grotesque, expressionist paintings. His work is not to all tastes (I think they’re mostly hideous) but on his blog he writes short explanatory paragraphs to accompany each painting, and his writing is brilliant. Sometimes pithy, almost always poignant, his observations truly bring the paintings to life.

Rainbow 2 Bar
 Rainbow Two Bar, watercolor on paper, 5 x 7 inch
Anyone not familiar with Expressionism should be forewarned: the paintings are SUPPOSED to look ugly. Expressionism is an artistic style that grew out of the European experience immediately following the unbelievable slaughter of the First World War. The artist’s world is now viewed as a harsh, edgy, dangerous place, filled with bad intentions and alienation. The Expressionists often painted their vision with dark lines and clashing colors, rather than the soft images and harmonious tones (like the Impressionists who preceded them). Famous Expressionists include George Grosz, Oscar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, and Otto Dix. OK, now that the art lesson is over, time to look at some paintings.

Late Night Rainbow
Late Night Rainbow A-Go-Go, watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inch
The painting above is meant to portray the 1am blur of mild insanity that can be witnessed almost any evening at the Rainbow A-Go-Go bar in Bangkok’s ultra-sleazy Nana Plaza entertainment district. And truthfully, it captures the scene pretty well. “Too much beer, too much flesh and too many expats out of control” says the artist on his website.

Expat Hangout
Expat Hangout, watercolor on paper, 5 x 7 inch
This painting, no bigger than a postcard, depicts the mundane side of almost any bar on Bangkok’s garishly seedy Soi Cowboy. A mix of lust and languor, or, as the artist so amusingly writes on his blog: “Certain Soi Cowboy bars are hangouts for retired expats, old hands in Bangkok, where they go to say hello to their friends. The girls are just there, in the background, available or not – no one cares. Where’s so and so? I just got back from the States, it ain’t the same. When’s your next visa run? I was over in Saigon last week. You should go over and take a look. If they lived in Arizona or Florida, they would all be playing golf.”

Patpong Girl
Patpong Girl, watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inch
The crude but compelling painting above is a great “capture the moment” slice of life in the night of pretty much any go-go dancer working in Bangkok’s Patpong red light district. And the angle is familiar to anyone who has sat in the front row watching these girls as they gyrate onstage in their high heels and skimpy bikinis (yes, guilty as charged). The artist on his blog imagines the numbers of tourists that she’s scene in her brief 2-years working as a dancer. “… about a hundred tourists a night, thirty-five thousand a year, seventy thousand in all, from Europe, Australia, the Middle East, Japan, Korea and the USA.”

Number 26
Number 26, watercolor on paper, 5 x 7 inch
Although I haven’t seen any other painters depicting Bangkok’s “ladies of the night”, the tradition of artists using prostitutes as models has a long history. Toulouse-Lautrec, the famous French Post-Impressionist, purposely sought out prostitutes and cabaret performers as models, arguing that they provided him with the natural, unconstrained movement he preferred. I’m sure artist Chris Coles (whom I’ve never met) also finds the attitudes and body language of Bangkok’s good time girls to be a big part of his inspiration. But he also seeks to depict the “world” these girls inhabit.

Quiet Night
Quiet Night, water color on paper, 18 x 24 inch
The painting above, which is as hilarious as it is disturbing, has a great bit of poetry to go with it on the artist’s website. It describes perfectly the feeling one experiences after being in Bangkok too long – when the heat and the repetition begins to wear you down a bit: “A quiet night in April, Bangkok’s hottest month. Outside, even at midnight, it’s a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity. Inside the bar, the A/C is on full blast, the beer cold and everybody’s happy to go through the motions, thankful for the escape.”

Washington Square Girl
Washington Square Girl, watercolor on paper, 5 x 7 inch
As I spent time online finding out more about Chris Coles, I discovered that he has packaged his collection of paintings into a book, entitled Navigating the Bangkok Noir (available online and at a few select bookstores in Bangkok, Singapore, and, perhaps not surprisingly, France). I haven’t seen his book here, but I hope it includes the insightful words he uses on his website. His thoughts behind Washington Square Girl (above) are actually quite poetic and moving: “Sometimes she sits the whole day without any clients or drinks. She thinks about her life as a little girl, in a house on stilts, taking care of the chickens and water buffalo. Her mother worked from dawn ‘til dusk, taught her kids to smile and sing, no matter how hard their life. At age 12, she finished school and joined her father in the rice fields. Before she was 18, she had two babies. Her boyfriend ran away. The kids are teenagers now, living in the house on stilts. Someday, they will come to Bangkok too.”

Lek at Pretty Lady
Lek at Pretty Lady, watercolor on paper, 5 x 7 inch
I was also surprised to find out that Coles, who divides his time between Bangkok and the USA (Los Angeles and Maine), has had exhibitions in New York, L.A., and even some prestigious galleries right here in Bangkok. He’s also had a pretty interesting life, working around the world in some very exotic locales. His paintings may not suit every taste, but art is where you find it, right? And if nothing else, his wry observations elevate the material to a universal level. Take for instance this blurb, which accompanies the painting above. It even touches on a bit of Buddhist philosophy: “Almost thirty, Lek’s body is still slender and supple. But she has seen too much, known too many men, danced too many nights. Her only desire is to go back to her hometown, take care of her ten year old son and live out the rest of this life in quiet, hoping the next cycle will be better.”

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Longtime Expat in the Bangkok Night

"Longtime Expat in the Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
He's been in Southeast Asia for thirty intense years, living on the edge, in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia,, pathos, tragedy, chaos, corruption, death, poignancy in every direction....where else would anyone want to live.......

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