(b. 1957, Thailand)
Vasan has been exposing social problems in Thailand through poetry, performance art and song for the past 20 years. However, it is his paintings that rail against social injustice that have brought him the deserved recognition from the International art community. Until then, reviewers castigated his work as being indulgent and a cheap Imitation of German Expressionism. To him, “style is irrelevant. What counts is your feeling. Painting expresses your head and your heart together in one.”
Vasan’s blatant approach to social realism goes against the 2000 year-old don’t-rock-the-boat tradition In Thailand. “Art in a rotten world can’t be landscapes,” he retorts, deliberately overstepping the boundaries. Full of questions about the meaning of life, Vasan devours literature at the British Council and the AUA libraries. His full attendance at the activities at Goethe Institute during a seven-year period probably explains the so-called German Influences In his paintings. Unlike other Thai artists who have attained international recognition, Vasan cultivated his own cosmopolitan weltanschaung without ever leaving the country.
While Thailand rushes to assume the outwards trappings of a newly industrialized country, Vasan’s art implores consideration on the effects of rampant materialization. He sees America, Europe and Japan as “dead” countries whose populaces have made Faustian bargain, trading their souls for consumer goods. “The sickness in the world is coming here to Thailand. Money makes you give up your honesty. We’re working for what? To be happy in hell.”
No stratum of Thai society escapes Vasan’s critique. If Thais were the devout Buddhist practitioners they claim to be, he says, they would be enemies of consumerism, not its slaves. Vasan learnt his Buddhism through extensive readings in the literature. The essence of Buddhism is a search for true enlightenment, but he believes the Buddhism taught in schools subtly twists the basic tenets. For example, the concept of ubekha which means “don’t get angry” is now promulgated as “don’t rebel”.
“My work is in Thailand,” says Vasan. “I love this country. I am ready to be a martyr. Death is not the enemy of life.” He admits he wouldn’t be surprised if one day someone wielding a sharp knife emerged from a crowd. “In the end, we all die anyway. If I’m still alive, I’ll paint. If I’m dead, no painting.”