The rural based artist in Britain and Thailand : an investigation into the creative processes by which artists have rejected the metropolitan context of contemporary art
In my home country there has been an assumption that innovative art is entirely an urban affair. As a result, Thai artists treat the city of Bangkok as a point of cultural focus modelled on Western art capitals such as New York and London. However, in the UK there is a thriving non-metropolitan art culture in which progressive and experimental practices are promoted in rural areas. Given that many Thai artists grow up in agricultural villages (and often explore rural topics in their art) it seems strange that Thailand has no viable alternative to the metropolitan model. My research project has developed new forms of creative practice for rural- based art in Thailand using practical and philosophical approaches derived from Western art. The methodology I have applied to this challenge has involved the dis-location of my practice in both urban and rural areas. During my doctoral project I have produced artworks on the City Campus at Northumbria University and in Banpao, my home village in northeast Thailand where I have pioneered one of the first rural art centres in my country. The body of practical work documented in this thesis is a synthesis of the processes of painting and agricultural work. The images are digitally manipulated photographic collages printed on the kind of canvas support I used when I began my career as a painter in Bangkok. Alongside this practical submission, my thesis begins by describing the contemporary urban/rural divide that allows us to continue to define an area of arts practice as 'rural-based'. I then move on to examine the homesickness and nostalgia that is conventionally said to motivate ruralism. I explore the desire to retreat from the problems of city life in relation to British art and, following a section on present-day life in my home village, the artists working in Bangkok who most epitomise the problems of making rural art in Thailand today. The conclusion to the thesis is reached through an engagement with Proustian reverie, Theravada Buddhism, environmental aesthetics and the philosophy of John Dewey. This leads me to speculate on the aspects of ruralism that make the British version so forward-looking and experimental. As a result, I am able to describe how nostalgia-driven forms of expression do not automatically produce sentimental artworks and propose an approach to rural art that could still carry a great deal of creative resonance for contemporary Thai artists.