Artist Profile: Bundit Puangthong

Fusing past with present, Bundit Puangthong renders the rural Thai culture into which he was born with the contemporary urban backdrop of his Melbourne surrounds. Louise Martin-Chew writes. Photography by Elke Meitzel.

Bundit Puangthong grew up determined to make a life away from the rural village in Thailand into which he was born. Unlike his six brothers, he was not content to work on the family farm. He left home aged 14, his early talent recognised by a scholarship to study at the Academy of Art, followed by a Bachelor of Arts at Chiang Mai University in 1992 where he was taught by renowned Thai artist Montien Boonma. He recalls, “When you finish university in Thailand, the King gives you a certificate. I met the King number nine – it made my parents proud.” After some years working as an art director for a music company, but still restless, he travelled to Australia. “I wanted to go to see what it was like elsewhere,” he says.

In Australia, Puangthong began as a busker in Melbourne, working in chalk on the footpath, enthralled by this city alive with art. Those observing his work told him that he should go to the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), and after studying English, he did just that. His first solo exhibition was in 2000, and since then his work has attracted attention for its characteristic life force, exotic motifs and unique fusion of culture and place. Most recently however, it is those early experiences in rural Thailand that inform his large scale and immersive paintings.

“I got a lot of different skills from my grandad,” he says. “He was a shadow puppeteer and used buffalo skins to make a pattern. When I saw street art in Melbourne it reminded me of the old techniques used in Thailand. Early on in my work, I am thinking how can I make people remember me and my artwork. I also love and am inspired by [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. In my first proper solo show I fed the paintings with a little bit of my Thai story. Then after six or seven years, I feel quite proud.”

“In the shows from the last ten to 12 years, my childhood and life story is coming out. It is time to let it go. Now the story becomes part of my painting, like a book about my life. Every painting has fifty per cent of that poor boy in the country.”

Puangthong was the first artist gallerist Edwina Corlette secured when she launched her Brisbane- based gallery in 2008 and he has shown with her ever since. “I was looking for something new and fresh,” says Corlette. “His graphic style is influenced by street art in Melbourne’s laneways, and a new-found freedom to express himself. His is a migrant story – none of his qualifications were recognised here – but after VCA training, away he went!” A forthcoming exhibition at EDWINA CORLETTE sees Puangthong’s work paired with Vipoo Srivilasa’s ceramics, to coincide with The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art’s Tenth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2021-22).

Featured image: Bundit Puangthong, Gold Fish In My Mouth, 2020. Acrylic on linen, framed, 142 x 230cm. Courtesy: the artist and EDWINA CORLETTE, Brisbane.

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