Following the sad death from a heart attack of locally reknowned Bangkok artist Panuwat Hoonbumrung, as a tribute to this gentle and talented man, we republish an interview he gave to Dragoncastle.net a few years ago. He is missed.
A familiar figure strolls casually along Silom Road in Bangkok. Strangers give way as he approaches, intimidated by the sight of 34 year old Panuwat Hoonbumrung’s very muscular form and firm air of self confidence. However, this hulk of a guy is in fact a gentle giant and one of Bangkok’s best known artists, with works hanging on the walls of large corporations, and occasionally on the bodies of young men…
Neung (“One”), as he is better known, was born in Samut Prakarn, just outside Bangkok. It is an an apt name for an only child, he said. “Mother had 13 brothers and sisters, so I think she decided one child was enough after having me.”
His artistic talents came to light at an early age while at Elementary school. He frequently ‘borrowed’ paintings from a cousin who was an architect and showed them to his friends, claiming them as his own work. “Then one day,” he recalls, “I wanted to rent some comics from some of my schoolmates, but they wouldn’t let me have them until I had drawn something in front of them. I was surprised how it came so naturally and easily for me and later I won several national school prizes for art.”
His parents wanted him to enter government service, but he stuck to his interest in art and began his career by designing fabrics and backgrounds, then moved into painting. “Being a professional artist is very difficult,” he said. “When some company had a grand opening I would do some graphic designs for them, then later they would ask me for some paintings . But it was always, like they wanted it in two days or something, so I had to paint very quickly, and that pressure made the work just flow naturally for me.”
What kind of person is Neung? “I’m a lazy guy and always leave my work until the last minute, I’m always late for meetings and don’t like to think about being on time for everything,” he commented, showing a typical insight to the laid-back, but successful, lifestyle he leads. “I like to go out and party all the time, thats my life.”
Neung may claim to be lazy by his own admission, but he certainly is talented, and making money. What, we wondered, inspired him? “I just see something, and maybe I will see it differently. It’s like playing. That’s why my studio is called Art at Play, and then I just paint what I see. When I think about religion, for example, I wonder what it is, as they all seem to have similar meanings, so I see it in my mind.”
“There are many ways to think about something. If you see your boyfriend with another man, you could be very jealous, or think they are having an affair, or you might just think that they are good friends enjoying life and being happy. So I see my art like that. There are many diverse ways of interpreting what I see and I use colour to express my feelings about whatever I’m working on. When you see the sun come up, the natural colours are very bright and I try to blend that feeling with my own technique.”
We noticed that on some of his canvases, the paint mixture is quite thick. “I do that to give a feeling of power,” he said. “Sometimes the mixture is very weak and sometimes thick. It reflects the level of power and emotion in the painting.”
He also draws and paints in a number of different styles, signing those styles with a different pseudonym, but each one contains his “ng” signature, so his work may not be difficult to identify by someone who knows him.
One well known mural by Neung adorns the wall of a gay pub in Bangkok’s Silom Soi 4. It depicts two elephants, one young and one older, and replaced an earlier mural (also by Neung) of two naked men. He explained that one of the pub’s owners had been captivated by his depiction of an elephant, so then asked him to repaint the mural.
“Those elephants are also gay,” Neung pointed out with a grin. “There is a young elephant and a older elephant; you could think they were father and son, or you could think they were older gay and younger gay! When he asked me to paint an elephant I had to think about how to paint it. The idea is male and male, but it is not so obvious like the old mural.”
Of course, being a relaxed, gay man, he includes many depictions of the male form in his portfolio, and most of these pieces hang in private homes. His talents also include body painting, and he featured prominately at Asia’s first “Body Works” show held in Bangkok. Unfortunately, by it’s very nature, the beautiful artwork produced during body painting is only temporary.
We asked Neung what makes him happy? “I don’t know, I am already happy,” he said. “My living, everyday. It’s not my work, it’s my life. Even when I first came to Bangkok and have just enough money to eat, I was happy, and my life is still happy.” And what makes him angry? “Mmm… nothing. I’m very jai yen. (cool hearted)”
Neung has been very successful since leaving college, despite being ‘lazy’, he is making a healthy living each month, although he admits to spending most of it each month too. But it did buy him the “Happen” gay dance bar in Silom Road’s hot little Soi 2, as well as a half share in a bar in Soi 4, plus his art studio in the same soi. So maybe he is not quite as lazy as he wants us to believe.