When the familiar becomes exotic

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Thai artist helps viewers discover "˜inner beauty' of day-to-day Vietnam

Motorbikes against a city wall in Vietnam. Direk Kingnok said he can paint in other media but watercolor is his first love.

Those who live in a country or village are less apt to see what is special about the specific features of their localities that they take for granted fixtures that they take for granted and do not spare a second, or even a first glance for.

Tourists, at least many of them, are different, because they are curious about a strange place and tend to notice more striking features about it than a native. And when the tourist is an artist, the ordinary and mundane become magical.

This is what Thai artist Direk Kingnok does to scenes of ordinary life in Vietnam. Through his watercolors, he imbues them with magical hues that wake up even the native's interest in their hometown.

"The images of the motorbikes, antique scooters, street corners, markets and crazy lines of electrical wires on the backgrounds of writing murals can be found anywhere in Vietnam. But I did not see their beauty until I saw Kingnok's works. This Thai guy does have Vietnamese blood. Aw, I miss my country so much," said Thuy Anh, a Vietnamese girl studying overseas.

Kingnok does more than just paint. He puts his watercolors and his painting techniques on display on YouTube, and this, along with social networking websites like Facebook, has only increased his reach and his popularity.

He gets more than a fair share of "likes," appreciative comments and even offers to buy his works.

Kingnok's association with Vietnam is not long, but it has apparently become very strong.

Kingnok (L) and a friend during a trip to Hue Town

He first came to Vietnam in January this year and was smitten. His first exhibition in the country followed shortly, in July when his watercolors on Vietnamese and Thai landscapes were displayed at the Viet Art Center in Hanoi to celebrate the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Thailand.

The paintings that told simple stories about Vietnamese society were well received.

Now he is preparing for his second exhibition which will be held November 18-24 at Ho Chi Minh City's Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibition will feature old and new architectural sites in Vietnam, and Kingnok says this time there will be three Thai artists who will also depict the daily life of Vietnamese people. 

Childhood love

Kingnok, born in 1976 in Nakhonratchasima, Thailand, said he has loved art since his childhood. 

"I began to study art in high school and graduated from B.F.A. (Painting), Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts Khon Kaen University in 1999. I became an art lecturer for two years, and then began pursuing a career as an independent artist until today."

Kingnok said he can paint in other media but watercolor is his first love.

"I love the charm of the watercolors. It expresses my identity and characteristics best. I like the work of many artists but I create works in my own way.

"I like to paint landscapes, which are like a record captured on a trip. They are a blend of facts and my impressions. Another reason is I was born into a farming family and grew up surrounded by nature and greenery for most of my youth. My drawing is nourished by this and my family's encouragement."

Kingnok started painting early. He began winning accolades early as well. He won a Gold Medal at a Youth Art Contest in Tokyo when he was just six.


Click on the photo to see more paintings of Thai artist Direk Kingnok

But he insists the greater, more important award is the joy of people who see his works.

On Kingnok's facebook page, in effect an online gallery, some viewers have commented that they want to use up their passport pages to learn about Vietnam after looking at his paintings of the country.

 "The artist makes me think that he understands Vietnam more than I do," said Hoai Son, a photographer.     

For his part, Kingnok, says: "I want my art to be a familiar story; of common people in common places. When you look at the world with a good attitude, surely you will see its hidden beauty."

Among several of Vietnam's sights, Ha Long Bay is a favorite for Kingnok.

"I like many places in Vietnam, but I am most impressed by Ha Long Bay. I love the sea, islands and the fishermen's lifestyle there. Most importantly, Ha Long Bay's beauty urged me to do large-scale paintings for the first time."

Tibet and Nepal are among future destinations in Kingnok's itinerary, and he looks forward to more "interesting stories" in different places, but there is something that will not change. He will still express himself through watercolors.

"In the future, I will still stay the same. As I have said earlier, it captures my identity and characteristics best."

By Kim, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the October 28th issue of our print edition, Thanh Nien Weekly)

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