CHAKRABHAND Posayakrit’s 500-square-wah home in Bangkok’s Soi Ekamai has been quiet in recent years as the veteran National Artist struggled to recover from a stroke that has left him partially paralysed. Now though, the property is taking on a new life with the doors once again open to the public.
Chakrabhand, 75, hasn’t held a major show for more than 15 years, well before his stroke, and the “Chakrabhand Posayakrit Exhibition” – a rotating series of his masterpieces at his property that runs through December 25 – is the first-ever major retrospective of his work.
The retrospective exhibition of celebrated artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit is on display at his residence in downtown Bangkok to celebrate his 75th birthday.
Once more art academy than residence, with students learning Thai traditional painting, casting puppets, designing ornate costumes and creating props, the house would morph into a puppet theatre on weekends, with the public welcomed to watch Chakrabhand and his troupe put on a show to the sound of a phipat, a traditional music ensemble.
The beautiful sound of the phipat was heard once more on August 16 – his 75th birthday – to accompany a prelude to his puppet show “Taleng Phai”, a heroic epic recounting the struggle of King Naresuan of Ayutthaya to liberate his kingdom from Burma. Fellow artists and friends turned out to celebrate his birthday and the media were there too to preview the exhibition.
The “Taleng Phai” puppet show
More than a decade went into the preparation of “Taleng Phai” and rehearsals were regularly held until Chakrabhand suffered his stroke. A dozen of the puppets used in the performance are also on view in the exhibition together with the moulds.
Chakrabhand, sitting in a wheelchair, smiled as he watched his puppeteers at work. One of the main puppets – King Maha Dhammaraja – was created by Chakrabhand in 2007 as was the main nine-metre scenery backdrop in acrylic canvas, which the master finished in 2004.
“I don’t know how to address all of you, but I’m really glad,” he said softly before begging off for a rest.
Chakrabhand, sitting in a wheelchair, watches his puppeteers operating the marionettes in “Taleng Phai” performance.
Though the stroke robbed the artist of the use of his right hand, he has been working with his left hand of late, part of the rehabilitation exercises for his arm and wrist muscles. A recent left-handed sketch of his physical therapist is also on view.
His left-handed sketch
Chakrabhand relies on Vallabhis Sodprasert, deputy director of the Chakrabhand Foundation, to speak for him.
“He is recovering and there are no complications, though his right-side body doesn’t function well. He undergoes daily physical therapy and has practised using his left hand. When writing with left hand, his letters are reversed,” says Vallabhis, Chakrabhand’s long-time right-hand man.
The exhibition shows all categories of his works from paintings, puppets to sculptures from his own collection and he has enough works to be able to rotate them every four months. Each piece is presented with a QR code to provide additional information.
A set of “Taleng Phai” puppets are on display together with the main scenery backdrop painted by Chakrabhand.
“When complete, there will be about 200 puppets for the four-hour ‘Taleng Phai’ performance. Ajarn Chakrabhand also created a puppet of Phra Suphan Kanlaya, King Naresuan’s sister, and other female characters for the show. To me, the puppet of Phra Suphan Kanlaya is the most beautiful, and her headdress is exquisitely crafted with silver.
“I still remembered how skilfully and gracefully he operated the puppet of Phra Suphan Kanlaya during rehearsals. I do hope we will see this again,” adds Vallabhis, 68, who is also the scriptwriter of the show.
The King Maha Dhammaraja puppet was created by Chakrabhand in 2007.
After the decades of preparation and rehearsal, the “Taleng Phai” performance should be staged next year when the foundation’s museum in Bangkok’s Sai Mai district is completed. It will be the new home for Chakrabhand’s masterpieces and include a 300-seat puppet theatre.
Prototypes of “Taleng Phai” puppet collection
The idea to build the full-scale museum arose in 2008 while the artist was battling a developer who wanted to erect a high-rise condominium right next to his home. The menace of a high-rise going up next door worried him because of the fragility of his collection – some of the 200 puppets he keeps are more than a century old. His friends, the media and the public were on his side and funds had been raised to support him. Though the developer finally backed off, he realised he’d eventually have to find somewhere else to store and display his work.
Chakrabhand’s new museum in Bangkok’s Sai Mai district will house his masterpieces and include a puppet theatre.
Chakrabhand’s love of Thai traditional art and classic dance began as a child. After watching a puppet show of Phra Abhaimani by the Nai Piak Prasertkul troupe on television when was 12, he started making his own rod puppets, using broken paintbrushes for the rod and chopsticks for the hand-extenders.
“As Ajarn Chakrabhand is a master of portraits, his puppets are distinctive for their accurate body proportions and the exquisitely embroidered costumes,” says Vallabhis who has been working with Chakrabhand since he was his art student at Silpakorn University in 1972.
A set of century-old puppets in his collection
Chakrabhand sought out masters from different fields and followed their work closely, learning puppet making from Chuen Sakulkaew and Wong Ruamsuk, embroidery from Yuean Phanuthat, and Thai music and classic dance from Boonyong and Boonyang Ketkong.
In 1975, the Chakrabhand Posayakrit Puppet Troupe was set up and performed a series of critically-acclaimed shows including “Phra Aphai Manee” in 1975, the “Nang Loy” episode of the epic “Ramakien” in 1977, and the enormously successful “Sam Kok” (the Thai adaptation of the Chinese epic the Three Kingdoms) in 1989.
The glass cabinets display both Chakrabhand’s own puppet creations and his collection of old puppets crafted by the masters. Among them are the figurine of the ogress Phisua Samut from the “Phra Aphai Manee” and the lady courtier with headdress – both crafted by Khru Manee for Chuen Sakulkaew’s troupe and later passed on to Chakrabhand.
The puppets for the 1989 production of “Sam Kok: the Battle of the Red Cliff”
Another glass cabinet displays his puppets clad in Chinese theatrical costumes for the 1989 production of “Sam Kok: the Battle of the Red Cliff” as well as the backdrop for the show.
“Ajarn Chakrabhand may be widely known as a puppet artist and portrait painter, but his expertise in landscape painting is also truly wonderful,” Vallabhis says.
Chakrabhand is recognised for his impressive portraits that blend Thai and Western styles as well as his exploration of the elegance of mythical characters in Thai literature.
His ingenuity for Thai traditional painting was obvious from his junior year at the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture, Silpakorn University as witnessed in his 1965 tempera on woven cloth “Pran Bun Capturing Manohra” inspired by Thai folklore Phra Suthon-Mahora.
The 1965 tempera on woven cloth “Pran Bun capturing Manohra” painted during his junior year at Silpakorn University.
The late celebrated artist and his instructor Fua Haripitak asked him in class, “Do you like doing traditional painting?” to which he replied in the affirmative. The professor thus encouraged him, “Keep on doing it. Don’t abandon your gift.”
The literary poem “Lilit Phra Lo” and the related Thai classical music sung by the late master Sudjit Duriyapraneet inspired him to paint the 2008 oil on canvas “Phra Lo Wishing for A sign at the River”, which uses a complicated technique of whirls and twirls mimicking a river to illustrate the scene.
The 1974 triptych with acrylic on gilt wood board features paintings inspired by the literary work “Inao”.
Also on view is a rare piece of the 1974 triptych with acrylic on gilt wood board featuring a Thai traditional painting inspired by the wind-sweeping episode from the Javanese story of “Inao”. Unicef used this piece for a series of greeting cards in 1977.
The outstanding mural projects painted by Chakrabhand and his team of assistants are in the ordination halls of Wat Tri Thotsathep in Bangkok and Wat Khao Sukim in Chanthaburi.
Phra Maha Paraminubhab Bisudh Anuttra Sangam Vijay
On show is the sculpture of Phra Maha Paraminubhab Bisudh Anuttra Sangam Vijay, also known as Phra Taleng Phai, created to preside over the Declaration of Independence scene in the “Taleng Phai” performance. The original 30-inch prototype statue is made of resin and exquisitely covered in gold leaf and adorned with Swarovski crystals. Over the years, this prototype has graced the Chakrabhand Posayakrit Foundation and is used in the wai khru ceremonies at the beginning of every performance.
Chakrabhand’s working desk and the prototype of the statue of Thotsakan for the King Rama II Memorial Park.
There is a prototype of the life-size statue of Thotsakan, the king of demons in the epic “Ramakien”, made to the command of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to display at the King Rama II Memorial Park in Samut Songkhram.
Also on display is his working desk with painting tools and an old teak easel given to him by Italian architect Ercole Manfredi, who came to work at the Ministry of Public Works during the reign of King Rama VI.
Vallabhis, Chakrabhand’s long-time right-hand man
“This exhibition is not held to show off his expertise, but aims to be a lesson in how to be a talented artist. People can learn about the depth of his studies in various areas, his delicate working process and how he integrates all areas of expertise into a complete work,” Vallabhis says.
AN APPRECIATION FOR ART
“Chakrabhand Posayakrit Exhibition” continues until December 25 at the artist’s residence-cum-foundation on Soi Ekamai (opposite Big C supermarket) daily, from 1pm to 4.30pm.
The works on display will be rotated every four months.
Admission fee is Bt100 for adults and Bt50 for children and students. Free entry is available for educational institutions during the morning session.
Call (02) 392 7754, (087) 332 5467 or visit www.Chakrabhand.org/exhibition