Like morning sun rays that gleam and cascade down from the sky and brighten up the world, the vibrant colours of artist Panpimon Suwannapongse, the Thai ambassador to Bangladesh, light up our vision, dazzling us and depicting a world of beauty, illuminating the natural world and presenting it to us as never before.
-- Ziaul Karim
Panpimon Suwannapongse's brushstrokes are laden with thick paints of blue and gold that have been applied with the virtuoso of a sculptor slapping clay on to a relief. In the thick layers of paints that Panpimon applies to her work 'My Father's Home', we see dense foliage of forests and blue sky merging to create an atmosphere of calm and serenity. Her works reveal immense technical ability and meticulous craftsmanship. She has handled the difficult medium of lacquer painting skillfully and applied layers of colour with startling dexterity. The idea of the painting where we view forest and clear blue sky enmeshed, came to her when she was mourning the death of her father, who was her spiritual guide and who had instilled in her love for nature and respect for tradition. She thought the best tribute to her father would be painting the kind of forests where he had sought spiritual peace all his life. She is obviously looking for solace in the beauty of the forests she has delineated on her canvas.
As someone who grew up in the lap of nature in the picturesque Korat province of Thailand, Panpimon's best memories include accompanying her father to the forest. The blue sky, the meandering lakes, the chirping of birds, and the dark hues of dense vegetation of the forest deposited layers of colour in her mind's canvas at a very early age.
In her early teens, she was conscious of the artist in her prompting her to her vocation and began painting seriously. She mounted her first exhibition when she was still in high school. But there were stiff resistance from her family about her decision to take up art in place of formal education at the university level. She gave in and got into Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok to study Political Science. Eventually, she did her MA in International Relations and joined the diplomatic service in 1980. But despite her diplomatic career she kept cultivating the artist in her and expressing herself in oil on canvas at leisure. She now realizes that this vocation has actually helped her overcome work-related stress.
The peripatetic nature of her diplomatic life took her to Hanoi in 2006 where she came in contact with Vietnamese artists and was introduced to lacquer painting. She was particularly fascinated with the textual and sculptural aspects of the medium. She then acquired the technique of lacquer painting from her tutelage under master artist Nguyen Quoc Cuong. Her love for warm colour and thick texture finally found a medium of expression in lacquer painting.
The recurring themes of her canvas are her homeland, her love for her father, King Bhumibol, and the fire-breathing dragon. She collects traditional artifacts and particularly dragons and uses them for her paintings. Her densely textured surface also takes jade stones, coins, silver leaf, crushed ivory, river shells, gold and silver dust to create shimmering effects in her artwork.
Her canvas embodies her love of nature and her deep respect of her tradition and the culture that has formed her.
Panpimon moved to Bangladesh in July this year as the Thai ambassador and whatever little she has glimpsed of the country till now has been enough to inspire her to embark on the series 'My Beautiful Bangladesh.' Two bold works of the series are among the exhibits at the Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh now being held in Dhaka.
“The radiance of the gold of the paintings is suggestive of Bangladesh's rise as a land of opportunity,” says the ever-smiling diplomat with the conviction of an artist.
Ziaul Karim is an art critic.