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Two Watercolorists Explore the Spiritual in Art at The Lodge Gallery, LES

“A Peculiar Nature” at The Lodge Gallery (installation view) (All photos by Apiwich Bangrapimolpong, courtesy of The Lodge Gallery)

By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, AUG. 2016   

Showing at The Lodge Gallery through September 4th, the two artist show A Peculiar Nature feels like a study in how opposites come gradually into confluence. Like researchers combining the overlapping meanings of the “experimental” and the “experiential,” Bangkok natives Tawan Wattuya and Sirikul Pattachote both use watercolors to craft a mystical ontogeny — one artist expressing humanity’s ambivalence to instinctual life, and the other taking for her subject the telos intrinsic to organic development. 

Left to right: Sirikul Pattachote, "Loose" (2016) watercolor on paper, 40 in. x 26 in.; Tawan Wattuya "Leopard 2" (2015), watercolor on paper, 22 in. x 30 in.

Throughout A Peculiar Nature the medium itself is carefully handled. The colorful diaphane of saturated pigments serves as a excellent foil for formalized statements on the animality of material cravings, or the organization of desire as a structural principle. Tawan Wattuya, by way of spectral studies of cheetas, panthers and pigs, suggests an Orwellian insight into the hypocrisy underlying humane society; and Sirikul Pattachote, in almost diagrammatic re-constructions of flowers, details with bright pastel washes the living synthesis whereby nature transforms isolated beings into experiential gestalts.

Tawan Wattuya, "Mu Dang" (2015) watercolor on paper, 22 in. x 30 in.

Sirikul Pattachote "Attraction" (2016), watercolor on paper, 52 in. x 40 in. (2 panels) 

While Wattuya portrays the more Dionysian side of natural history, Sirikul Pattachote’s flower paintings are Apollonian studies in structure. Pattachote handles watercolors so that their semi-transparency enacts a contemplative distance vis-à-vis her subject-matter. Her works are less descriptive than philsophical; they schematize the reproductive power of organic form, but also focus on those aspects of development that deviate from the norm. Pattachote’s flower paintings almost feel digital in their subtle divigations from verifiable perception. In one painting, “Between” (2016), a pink streak drips away from the brightly painted composition. This is less an “accident” than a moment of abstraction staining an otherwise figurative work.

Sirikul Pattachote, "Between" (2016), watercolor on paper, 30 in. x 22 in.

By contrast, Wattuya’s pictures are more straightforward; they hover somewhere between detailing the individuality of a creature, and capturing its universal essence. This universality, however, is not without commentary — criticality — on the part of the artist. It’s as though the porous nature of watercolors were used to bend light, re-forming the pure concept of a panther, dog or panda toward an impassioned, impressionistic rendering. The animals in Wattuya’s works are not lacking in humanity because they're viewed from the perspective of humanity — a human, all-too-human lens in terms of which his figures appear equally symbolic and visceral.

Tawan Wattuya, "Sword Tail" (2015), watercolor on paper, 28.25 in. x 39.75 in.

Tawan Wattuya "Panda 2" (2016) watercolor on paper, 22 in. x 30 in.

The relative reality of classification, the family resemblences that make taxonomy possible, is called into question in the works of both artists. The medium of watercolor on paper is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing this. It enables the elements of a figure to appear both blurred and highlighted, so that the viewer has to fill in perceptual gaps. One could also argue that the works of both artists are equally suited to the computer screen as much as to the more inveterate substrate of paper. Wattuya’s and Pattachote’s paintings feel deeply rooted, even traditional, as well as up-to-the-moment. A contemporary spirituality is at play in the way their subjects stand in isolation against a boundless backdrop. WM

Jeffrey Grunthaner

Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer based in New York. You can find his work in BOMB, artnet News, The Clauduis App, ArchinectImperial Matters, FolderHyperallergic, and elsewhere. His chap book THE TTTROUBLE WWITH SUUNDAAYS was published by Louffa Press in 2014. He curates a reading series on contemporary poetics at Hauser & Wirth, West 22nd Street.

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