One day, an anonymous letter reached one of my dear relatives at his office without any advance notice. The content of the letter described that the writer knew that my relative is fond of artworks and an enthusiastic collector. The writer would like to sell his father’s collectibles which are painted by well-known artists: Fua Haripitak, Thawee Nandakwang, and Suchao Sitkanes. These artists have been highly regarded as the finest ones in the Thai art sphere and their works are the most-wanted among the collectors like Benjapakee Set, the most popular Buddhist amulet set among Thai people. Therefore, my relative passed this information and asked my help to accompany him to the place whether those paintings are worth interesting enough or not.
On the next day, I, without hesitantly, made a call to the phone number as indicated in the letter. The receiver was a man whose age would be about 40s. He gave us very little information and, I made an appointment to see the artworks at his home in the Golden Mount, Saket Temple area. In the evening on that day, we, my wife and I accompanied by my senior (the artwork specialist), agreed to go to that place. We needed to go in a big group as I need various opinions and critiques. Before entering that house, we agreed to see each other at the famous Padthai restaurant nearby. When the appointment time arrived, we saw a dark thin man with long wavy hair. He wore a loose t-shirt and baggy pants. He looked like a singer of Thai folk music with the theme of a hard-working class or a painter rather than an art trader. After greeting, we followed him to the small alley which was sandwiched by overcrowded housing. He led us through many small alleys and a canal. There came his house which was a small two-story house made of wood.
After opening the door, we saw piles of food and household products at every corner of the house including under a table or a bed. The house was so stuffy and messy that we couldn’t find our place to have our seats. We wondered why the national artists’ artworks were kept there. That man, the house owner, started his story that his father came from a well-known family and had chances to get to know the famous artists at that time, so he, his father, always got a lot of these paintings directly from them. After his father’s death, he acquired all of the paintings but he was not an art collector, so he was willing to sell those artworks to prove that his father truly knew those artists. Most importantly, he could claim that he didn’t brag about this story. He also showed a few old prospectuses from the art exhibitions in the past with some words he claimed that they were written by the artists. These handwritings told us that the artists willingly gave these prospectuses to his father with their signatures.
While we were coming closer to the climax of the day, the owner of the house presented some artworks ranging from Thawee Nandakwang’s horizontal painting which portrayed a purple water lily blooming among reeds with acrylic paint on a canvas. Its dimension was 1×0.5 meter with the artist’s English signature. The next one was a picture of a child with an eerie face standing in the middle of a village painted by Suchao Sitkanes. He painted with strong thick brush strokes on a canvas with his abbreviated signature ‘S, Kanes’ at the corner of the painting. Last but not least, it was the sketch works, by Fue Haripitak, that were scenic views, or church pictures. There was a pile of paper written by a pen on aged yellowish papers with penned English signatures by Fue. I couldn’t remember the number of pieces of paper but there was certainly a Fue’s signature on every piece. After a presentation of the paintings, the house owner narrated artists’ inspirations with his innate emotion and correct information.
After listening for a while, we asked about the price of the paintings. Thawee’s paintings cost THB 250,000. Suchao’s cost THB 150,000 while Fue’s was THB 10,000 each. Moreover, he seemed to be kind enough to accept the bargain. However, the prices he requested were pretty low for the front-rolled artists. Normally, the prices of those artworks were traded 10-20 times higher than the prices he offered.
After the presentation and pricing proposing had been finished, all of us eyed together with understanding. We were ready to leave and say goodbye to the owner simultaneously. The reason that we behaved abruptly ill-mannered without staying any longer was I was afraid that my senior would burst out his anger with that man. If you used to see the artworks from those artists, you will intrinsically know that those works in that house are all fake. To start with the prospectuses, we didn’t know whether they were genuine or not as we didn’t have a chance to compare the handwriting with the real one. His father may know the artists who gave those booklets to him. Otherwise, there might be somebody to make up the statements and the signatures. This was not difficult to do as most of the artists’ signature was simply signed. For example, Fue’s signature was displayed as ‘ฟ’ only at the corner of the frame. Even me, I can fake this. Although these booklets were proved to be true, this didn’t mean that the artworks were the real ones. Most importantly, we needed to see the artwork ourselves and compared those fake ones with the real one we experienced. Those works he showed were not similar to the works from the real artists he claimed. Even though he used the same materials: canvas, frames, or old yellowish paper, the painting skill on the canvas was still far behind.
In fact, to make an art counterfeit is not something new, the forgery techniques are far better than what we saw in that house. Sometimes, the falsified works look more like the real thing with sophisticated techniques. Before starting the process, the counterfeiters will study the artist’s background including his family, painting techniques, and art supplies. Perhaps, they know more details of the artist than his family. They, then, will practice their painting skill and prepare their art materials which are precisely similar to the artists’. For example, if they want to falsify the ancient artworks which were painted about centuries ago by natural pigments, they will try to mix the current pigments that look the same as the original ones. Besides, they will try to find old paintings by the unknown who lived at the same time as the targeted artists at a much cheaper price. They, then, will wash the painting with some chemicals resulting in a blank canvas with a frame that was the same age as the original one and it can’t be detected by the scientific method.
For the ingenious world counterfeiters, not only do similar techniques or materials they apply but they also fake the prospectus and evidence to make the artworks more credible. The evidence can be classified as receipts, prospectuses, books, letters, artist’s wills, or modified photos which show the artist with a broad smile with their copycat paintings. This can confuse the professional collectors, auction companies, or museums around the world. That’s why there will be a lot of institutes to distinguish the real ones from the counterfeits even though the counterfeiters still develop their cutting edge techniques all the time. Hence, the problem of the copycat still exists and has never been rooted out.
In Thailand, modern artworks have been introduced to the market, so the price could be touchable. Thai counterfeiters’ skills are just at the primary level, but they are quite adept in confusing people. One of the tricks was the counterfeiters mingled the fake works with the real ones. They, then, took a photo that was placed on the prospectus. This method made everything look real. Alternatively, they lent their counterfeits to be put in the luxurious estate or mansion without the house owner’s acknowledgment. When they wanted to sell the fake artwork, they pretended that they carried it out of the house. Of course, the house owner didn’t know. This made everything look credible. Another example is the fakers rented an old lavish house in the Sukhumvit area, Bangkok prime area. They filled up the house with old furniture and a lot of fake artworks to make these look reliable. They, also, made up the story that they were about to move to somewhere else, such as some luxurious condominiums, or abroad. When the victims learned about the story, they would agree to buy the forgery art and the furniture. They might think that they were very lucky to own the precious artwork at a bargain price from millions of THB to hundred thousand THB per piece, but they didn’t know that they were already preyed upon by the fakers.
If we take a close look, it’s not difficult to differentiate the fake works from the real ones in Thailand. Some forgeries look very close to the actual ones whereas some can’t even make these works look too close. In fact, their fake works look far behind the real ones. When things don’t come out as expected, the cunning fakers paint the picture in their styles and lie that those paintings were made during the incubation period of the artists. Some slack fakers bought some old paintings with similar styles to famous artists from the no-name shops and replaced those signatures with the fake ones. Some might buy some paintings with the same style as the famous ones but without any signatures. They, then, put their fake signatures on the pictures instead. Sometimes, they scanned the real pictures from the printed media and got those pictures printed out on the canvas. With advanced printing technology, the printing machine can imitate the thickness of the ink or brush strokes like human’s paint. After finishing the process, the faker will put some strokes of paints on the pictures. This makes the painting look like an original one. When the forgeries are on sale with some reliable evidence, there will be somebody victimized because of the look-real brush-stroke. Without any surprise, those pictures look the same as the original one as they are scanned from the real one. The truth might be discovered when the real artists come visiting that home with confusion.
The easy technique to own an art piece is to buy it from the alive artist directly, but most counterfeits are done with the dead artists’ works because those forgeries can be sold quickly and nobody accuses them of faking the works. It is important to be aware if you buy the work made by the dead artists. As all of them are departed, it’s essential to get suspicious before purchasing. If the seller mentions or boasts about something, it’s vital to check their information by asking some help from art specialists or experienced collectors. If you buy some artworks from the gallery, you need to check their background of the place or artists whether you can get reimbursement for the low-quality artworks. It is not difficult to collect artworks if you always wander around the art exhibitions, galleries, or museums and study hard about it. Most importantly, don’t be greedy and get rushed; these may protect you from owning the counterfeits.
Back to our evening near the Golden Mount community, all of us got depressed as we had found a lot of fake artworks which are the malignancy of the Thai art sphere. This trip wasted our time a lot, so we needed to burn out our bad temper by having double special dishes each from the renowned Pad Thai Restaurant. This gave us a moral lesson that “nothing good and cheap in the world” because we had a fresh big prawn in our special Pad Thai dish we ordered at a special price.