Thep Thavonsouk

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am

Saffron Robes in Light and Shadow: Looking at Spirituality (350-400)

Sin Sin Fine Art

Today to Dec 7

In a dreamlike haze of thick, saffron-coloured air, robed figures with shaven heads emerge from the shadows. They're the subject of Calgary-based painter Thep Thavonsouk's works in his first Hong Kong exhibition. The Laos-born artist, 59, aims to convey a sense of timelessness and ethereality in his oils on canvas and watercolours on rice paper.

'My paintings solicit a sense of tranquillity and sensuality. They grow out of silence, with a dreamlike morphology of figures that dissolve into the landscape,' he says.

During brief periods in 1970s and 1980s, the polyglot artist (Thavonsouk is fluent in six languages), studied under Chinese art masters Chen Ming-shien and Tien Manh-shih in Taiwan, and learned the art of kiri-e (paper-cutting) and wood block painting in Japan. His works have been exhibited at Calgary's Glenbow Museum and galleries in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Canada.

Thavonsouk's fascination with monks originates from his childhood in the northern Laotian city of Luang Prabang. Every morning, the artist would witness a sea of saffron robes on the streets, as the monks begged for alms. He says: 'At 6am, you could see hundreds of monks, barefoot with bowls hanging from their shoulders that people would drop food into. It was a wonderful way to look at [Laotian] culture and customs.'

Taking inspiration from Impressionist, realist and semi-abstract art, Thavonsouk's paintings don't have a specific perspective, but show a spatial ambiguity, with figures moving forward as well as back. 'It's my philosophy that we are temporary and we should take time to rejoice life and be mindful of our short lifespan,' he says. 'Through shadow, light and darkness [in the paintings], we relish good times, but we need to go through lessons, suffering and ignorance before coming to the enlightenment of knowing who we are or where we'll go in life.'

In Light and Shadow VI, the air is a dense, purplish blue with a cluster of saffron robed figures walking in one corner. He says: 'Saffron is peace, while purple is the colour of spirituality. They go well together, cold and warm colours ... showing that through the darkness we can see light.'

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