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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