• The self-portrait

Where the hidden truths lie

Art February 06, 2017 01:00

By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation
Chiang Mai

4,466 Viewed

On a voyage of self-discovery, Kamin Lertchaiprasert melds meditation and art

Buddhist concepts have been inspiring art for 3,000 years, but, as a modern sampling in a modern setting, the exhibition “The Timeless Present Moment” at Chiang Mai’s Mia Iam Contemporary Art Museum is an extraordinary exercise in visualising the deepest and most ethereal tenets of the religion.

In the inspiring retrospective, Kamin Lertchaiprasert offers a naked self-portrait in wax, an image of himself losing his self, held fast in the rigid meditative pose of a yogi.

The gaze wanders to another highly realistic sculpture, depicting a young Taiwanese woman – Kamin’s assistant, Ting Chu – holding a newborn mouse in her hands and watching it with kind eyes. Around her are four bronzes whose gestures evoke the unending cycle of life. 

The exhibition closes today in Chiang Mai but will be mounted again at Bangkok’s Numthong Gallery next month, albeit on a smaller scale.

As an artist and devout Buddhist, Kamin, 53, has for more than two decades sought out the true nature of life through a merging of both disciplines. 

He studied the writings of the late Luang Por Cha on vipassana maditation and then became interested the teachings of another influential monk, the late Buddhasa Bhikkhu, who gained fame through his innovative reinterpretations of Buddhist doctrine.

Finally, in 2008, Kamin travelled to Japan to learn more from a Zen master and gradually discovered the instructive truths behind the tea ceremony, meditation gardens and the deliberate imperfections of raku ceramics.

All of this accumulated knowledge informs the 70-plus drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations, videos and photographs in the retrospective, which date as far back as 1979. The artist serves as his own curator, illustrating his struggle with the timeless questions of life and the quest for inner peace.

Practising vipassana and its integral deep breathing while he works, Kamin strives to remain “in the present” at all times, mindfully observing the people and events around him.

When Ting Chu found that baby mouse abandoned in the studio last year, she promptly decided to take care of it, and for Kamin it was an illuminating moment. He expressed the sensation that surged in his heart in the sculpture “Living Kindness”, with the focus on the tiny, vulnerable animal cupped in gentle human hands.

The 2015 waxen self-portrait in a meditation pose, “No Past No Present No Future”, appeared in a group show at the Palais de Tokyo ln Paris ast year to critical acclaim. Kamin caused a sensation of his own at the show’s opening by mimicking the pose and sitting naked in meditation for almost four hours.

“The act of creating art keeps me concentrated on the present,” he says, “and the art becomes a record of that moment of a peaceful mind.”

Recent paintings that depict him disappearing and in a mirrored teahouse also owe a debt to Zen, as does the 2014 set of raku teacups tellingly titled “Nothing Special”.

In the double painting “Missing Stone”, taken from family snapshots, Kamin and his son are seen from the rear relaxing in a Zen garden. But on the back of the same canvas, which is hung on a transparent wall, you see that his son is playing games on a mobile phone and the artist is toying with an insect. 

“It’s a metaphor,” Kamin explains. “The missing stone is ourselves.”

The Bangkok version of the show next month will be smaller but its central message about “the timeless present moment” will be intact – and perhaps educational for anyone seeking out the same truths. 

On view along with Kamin’s self-portrait and the marvellous depiction of his assistant with the mouse, there will be 15 new paintings from the “Timeless Present Moment” series not shown in Chiang Mai. 

Another piece to look for will be the video “From Moment After Moment”, in which Kamin cycles to the top of Doi Suthep at a time in his life when a serious family problem made meditation intolerable. In concentrating on act of cycling, he discovered a different form of meditation. 

“Every moment of our lives is like riding a bicycle up a hill,” he writes in the show’s catalogue.


- Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s retrospective "The Timeless Present Moment” ends today at the Mia Iam Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai but selected works can be seen at Bangkok’s Numthong Gallery from March 4 to May 5.

- The exhibition catalogue is available at both venues for Bt1,500.

- Find out more at www.MiaIam.com and www.GalleryNumthong.com.