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Chakrabhand Posayakrit, The Breath of Thai Art

🇹🇭 ภาษาไทย

Many years ago, I obtained a painting of a lady wearing Sabai, the traditional Thai style breast-cloth, playing a stringed instrument in a sitting position. The owner claimed that this picture was painted by Chakrabhand Posayakrit while he was studying in a secondary school. At that time, it’s quite unbelievable that a student could portray a breathtaking picture like this. Therefore, I needed some confirmation from the actual artist whether this picture was genuine or not. Without any reluctance, I made an appointment with my senior to ‘The Chakrabhand Posayakrit Foundation’ near Big C Hypermarket Ekamai Branch where we parked our car. 

We, then, carried the painting crossing the road awkwardly. There we arrived at the green iron gate of the foundation and rang the bell. I felt trembling waves running over my nerves and my legs. It’s not because of the heavyweight of the painting but the exuberance to see my favorite artist of all time.  

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We stood in front of the gate waiting for someone to open. As we entered the gate, there was a collection of traditional wooden houses surrounded by assorted leafy trees that gave a cool serene shade to anybody  . The open space under the house allowed the wind from the garden to flow in. At the corners, there were several working desks where artisans were working on their works dedicatedly. They drew pictures, sculpted some statues, carved some wooden works, embroidered clothes, and lacquered black and gold colors on some objects. Both the house buildings and these people dragged me to the past like entering the world of a period drama called ‘Love Destiny’, the famous traditional Thai period drama. 

Although we didn’t see the leading actor of the drama, Pope Thanawat, we met Khun Tong Vallabhis Sodprasert, Chakrabhand’s gifted student, who gave us a warm welcome to the foundation. A moment later, Chakraphand descended from the upper floor slowly. He came to greet us at the grand dining table. It was my delightful moment, so I knelt to prostrate myself on the ground showing my respect for him. I tried to bend myself down to earth as much as my big belly allowed me to and asked to call him ‘master’. Personally, to call him ‘master’ was not enough because he seemed to be an angel on earth who perfectly created a painting of heaven-like creatures with a magical bound. On that day, if I laid myself down to pay respect to him and called him ‘My Angel’, he certainly would think that I was insane and flee up to the second floor within seconds. 

Chakrabhan gave us a fond greeting with small talk for a little while before I showed the picture of the lady in front of him. It stunned him for a moment but his eyes glowed with delight. I just learned that he loves every piece of his paintings like they were his flesh and blood circulating in his body. He hadn’t seen this painting for a long time. Consequently, a look of ecstasy prevailed on his face. He told us about the story underlying this painting including the reason for his painting, the place he painted, whom he handed it to, and the next owner, etc. It was quite clear in his mind as if it happened yesterday. In fact, all of these situations took place more than 50 years ago. This picture looked so aged and a bit dusty that he couldn’t bear those stains on his painting. He asked us to leave this picture with him as he wanted to make it come alive. This was very kind of him. My senior and I decided to leave his place and walked back to my car with excitement. Time was flying fast. We thought that we spent just a quarter of an hour at the foundation, but we got shocked when we saw the bill of parking. The cost was incredibly high as our conversation with Prof. Chakrabhand took us more than two hours. That day was the first day we saw him who has been praised as the Master of Artist of Rattanakosin Era, the National Artist in the field of painting, the National Outstanding Person in the field of National Pride Proliferation, and, of course, my idol. 

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Chakrabhand was born on the 16th of August in 1943 in Bangkok, he was the son of Mr. Chub and Mrs. Sawangchan. He shone his artistic prodigy since he was young. It could be said that he would be a great artist in his former life because he was able to draw before he could write a letter. After seeing a traditional Thai dancing drama, Khon, with his parents at the temple many times, he was able to draw the dramatic characters which included ogres and female protagonists with complete details of costumes by himself. 

He finished high school level at Vajiravudh College where he started his primary school life. Not only did the college groom the students with academic and sport enhancements, but the college director at that time, Praya Prarot Raja, also endorsed the artistic skills of students. To cultivate the sense of art, He hired adept art professors: Prem Saiyawong and Niro Yokota to teach drawing and painting to the students. As well as this, Paitoon Mueang Somboon, the sculptor, came to teach sculpting. Moreover, the director always sent his students to any art contests as much as possible. Certainly, Chakrabhan was always chosen to be the contestant. Young Chakrabhan has shown his talent since he was in grade 3 in the Juvenile National Art Contest, but his picture got rejected owing to the committee’s disbelief. No one believed that picture was done by a grade three student. This put Prarot Raja into trouble, so he had to see Prof. Silpa Bhirasri and told the truth.  

Additionally, Chakrabhan usually practiced his drawing all the time whether it was in class or recess. There were always copious pictures he drew in several notebooks and textbooks. After school, most students loved playing sports: football, basketball, or rugby while Chakrabhan enjoyed drawing and painting at some buildings. During his high-school, his father took him to learn drawing and painting with Mr. Chamras Khietkong, a well-known portrait artist. 

Additionally, his relatives took him to study art with Prof. Silpa Bhirasri. After finishing high school, he attended the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture at Silpakorn University. Unfortunately, Prof. Silpa passed away before Chakrabhan started his university life. In 1966, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and worked as a special instructor in Thai art at the Faculty of Decoration for five years. After that, he resigned from his job at the university and became a freelance artist until now. 

I have no idea what merit he made in his former life. In this present life, he holds several miraculous skills in arts that have been publicly acknowledged. Since his life at the university, he has been awarded a lot of national trophies. His friends asked him to submit his work to the national contests even though he is not a competitive man. His friends planned to be a model for Chakrabhan to complete a portrait painting which was later put forward for the contest. Nonetheless, his painting was failed by the committee. One year later, he made another greater attempt than before to send his painting to the contest again. This time, his friend, ‘Wisuta Husbamrer’ who had the most pleasant look among her peers, became his model. His painting portrayed a picture of a beautiful lady with a Thai style looking who sat on a chair with her hands resting together on her lap embraced with a surreal atmosphere. Her eyes and face showed an unclear expression causing everyone to go in quest of her true feelings under her appearance. With this pleasing quality, this painting was awarded a bronze medal in the National Art Contest in 1965. 

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There was some gossip behind his award that his university professor, Mr. Fue Haripitak, who was also a committee, intended to lower his prize down to the bronze medal. Apparently, his painting should have been awarded higher, but his professor wanted Chakrabhand to keep his painting with pride for himself. Subsequently, a bronze medal was given to him. If this painting was awarded a gold or silver medal, it will be kept as university property. 

After that national contest, he usually submitted his work to the art contests consecutively, and, doubtlessly to say, he always won awards regularly. For example, he won a silver medal award in 1966 with a portrait of ‘Suwannee Sukhontha’. Additionally, he received several silver medals in four consecutive years which are 1970 with the painting ‘Klum’, 1971 with a portrait of ‘Duangta Nandhakwang’, 1972 with the painting ‘Lost’, and 1973 with the portrait of ‘The sitting man’. After winning awards four years in a row, he refrained from entering the contest. 

Noticeably his awarded works always portrayed the portraits of his acquaintances, so he would be able to express the personalities and emotions of the models elaborately. Furthermore, he set the composition and atmosphere in a surreal style including light, shadow, and tone. That was different from the other artists. 

Apart from his awarded works, he also performed his portrait paintings for many people ranging from the royal families, some high ranked abbots, civil servants, businessmen, and his students. His brush strokes are unique. No matter if the picture is painted with oil paint, watercolor, or pastel, he never outlines with a pencil but he strokes the paint precisely without hesitation. This gives a sense of cleanness and the complexion in the portrait looks lively and fair. Whoever has a chance to compare his portrait and the real model can perceive a more adorable look of the portrait than the model. Should there be any photo-editing application with Chakrabhan’s style, this will probably be listed as the most popular app among high end-users. This is because nowadays everyone likes to show off their photo-edited profile picture modified by the applications. By using that application, those facial structures and skins have been beautified and exfoliated. 

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Another of his favorite visual paintings is the traditional Thai dramatic characters that are angles, ladies in traditional costumes, or ideal human beings. He has exhibited his imagination deliberately in drawing these human beings which, probably, look more dainty beyond the real humans.  Despite his numerous works, the owners of his paintings prefer keeping those works in private to showing them in art exhibitions. Fortunately, his delicate paintings are published in the forms of greeting cards for the Children Hospital Foundation and calendars of some insurance companies. Normally, I always scratch some notes on the calendar which will be thrown away by the end of the year, but this is not for Chakrabhan’s calendar. If somebody gives me his calendar, I will carefully wrap and keep it safe from the beginning of the year as it is too ravishing to use. 

Not only did Chakrabhan create contemporary art, but he also contributed to Thai cultures and customs through his outstanding artistic techniques. He has developed and deployed these techniques named “Chakrabhan’s Artisanship”. He didn’t imitate the original technique but he further invented it through his specialty. Moreover, he had a chance to renovate mural paints along with the galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, to create a painting for Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai, to design a stage curtain for the main hall of Thailand Cultural Center and a stage at the National Theatre. Furthermore, he devoted himself to the religion by organizing mural paintings on the wall of Wat Tridhosthep Worawihan in Bangkok and Wat Khao Sukim in Chanthaburi. 

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In terms of sculpture, he has initiated several breathtaking forms of art. For example, he has designed and directed the production of Thai literature character sculptures: Chao Ngo (Ngo Pha protagonist) and the buffalo shepherds, Kraithong (the protagonist) fighting with Chalawan (the giant crocodile), and Ramayana Scene ‘Monkey Offering’ under the Royal suggestion of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. These sculptures have been situated in King Rama II Memorial Park, Samut Songkhram Province. He also designed his own Buddha Image ‘Phra Buddha Maha Bharameenupharp Pisut Anuttrasangkarmvichai’ with a graceful look through ‘Chakrabhan’s Artisanship’ for performing art purposes and for sales. 

In terms of puppet theatre, he was inspired by the puppet show organized by the famous puppet master ‘Mr. Piek Prasertkul’ broadcast on the television network. He, consequently, made his simple puppets from scraps. Ten years later, he had a great opportunity to learn about the puppet show with Ms. Chuen Sakulkaew, Mr. Piek’s daughter. He learned traditional dance and how to control the puppets. After that, he established a group of puppeteers and held the first puppet show himself in 1975 with the story of ‘Phra Abhaimanee: Fleeing from the Giantess’. Two years later, the puppet show called ‘Ramayana: the Floating Lady’ was publicly presented. After those two shows, he and his crew spent about ten years producing puppets and stages for a Chinese Epic called ‘The Three Kingdoms: The Sea Battleship’ which was performed at Thailand Cultural Center in 1987. That was the greatest puppet show that Thailand’s ever had and nobody was daring to invest in the show production like him. 

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After his tremendous success, there was no time for him to introduce another puppet show which he expected to be more bewitching. That was the origin of the greatest puppet show ever ‘Lilit Taleng Phai’ which assembled a team of national artists and specialists from different fields. His puppets were invented with mechanisms inside. They looked life-like; they could move, dance, and fight with weapons like humans did. The costumes for the puppets also looked captivating as the material used was made from gold, costly jewelry, and lavish cloth without any budget limitation. The play, stage design, and music had been crafted collaboratively for more than 30 years which could be the longest time ever for the dramatic production. After everything had been completed, it was time for the rehearsal which was free of charge. Sometimes, there were some food booths offering both main dishes and desserts from Chakrabhan’s supporters. There were about 400-500 audiences who attended the rehearsal each time. This invigorated the tranquil place into the vibrant temple fair. During that rehearsal time, the traffic in that area was heavier than usual and this could confuse anyone that Thongchai McIntyre, a Thai legendary superstar, was holding his concert. 

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Besides, Chakrabhan is a genius writer who is known by his pen name ‘Sasivimon’. It was given by Ms. Suwannee Sukhonthat, his university senior and the famous writer at that time. His topics revolved around art, traveling, society, or anything that happened in his life. His pieces of writing were published in ‘Lalana Magazine’ the most popular magazine at that time. Then, his writings were compiled and published into a book many times. He also won a prize in the National Book Fair. After Lalana Magazine terminated its business, his articles were still published on ‘Ploy Kaem Petch Magazine’. Apart from his topics in the magazines, he wrote many books about Thai Puppets, Royal Puppets, and Chakrabhand’s Puppets. Should you miss him, you can search for his books in the market. 

Chakrabhan has generated a multitude of praiseworthy artworks. Although his works are so popular and pricey, his life-style is very simple and humble. The earning he received has been used for supporting his students, new artists who work for Thai traditional art, and, without any doubt, for preserving enticing puppet production. Additionally, he has been building his scalable museum in the Watcharaphol area. All of his works throughout his life will be showcased at this place in the hope that they will be the national heritage and dignity of Thailand for the next generation. Supporting Thai art is another way to endorse the public interest. 

Would you like to give kind support to the Chakrabhan Foundation by owning something nice and endearing? There are wide varieties of appealing postcards, charming printed art, enjoyable books, and graceful Buddha Image for you at the foundation as they are not available in the public market places. Through kind support, the faint breath of the Thai art could be stronger and last longer, too. 

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