Thailand’s art scene is enjoying a renaissance, a contemporary and gritty edge added to the historical forms of expression. Graffiti lines the walls of trendy suburbs, much like the murals that spread across ancient temples. Surreal paintings hang in the galleries, redolent of a story that has social and political undertones. Buddhist pieces have a new lease of life, sculptures and paintings reflecting a new breed of artist. Across Bangkok and the north, art is no longer something seen in galleries and museums, but a lifestyle that is shaping the modern edge of the country. Thailand art tours go behind the scenes to explore this blossoming world, connecting tradition and ancestral crafts with the rustic sharpness of the present.
Thailand’s art is firmly rooted in Buddhist tradition. In a conservative and deeply religious country, expressionism has typically come through images of Buddha and the ornamental facades of palaces and temples. Across the ancient Thai capitals you’ll find distinctive carvings of Buddha. In Sukhothai, the preference was for images cast in metal rather than stone, the artists following an ancient style determined by Pali texts. That’s why in this mesmerizing old capital you’ll find Buddha’s eyelashes shaped like a cows, his arms modeled on an elephant’s trunk, and castings so smooth no dust or dirt can affix itself to the Buddha image.
Nearby Ayutthaya was influenced by Sukhothai yet created its own design, gold and bronze adding glamor to the stone, artists more innovative as they produced murals to fill the temples. As you explore the faded works you’ll notice the lack of perspective, with the important figures in a painting disproportionally larger than everything else. In the temples of modern capital Bangkok you’ll encounter the influence Western art had on these Buddhist pieces. The styles of colonial forces added a different dimension to typical scenes, creating a more realistic perspective. However, the recent breed of Thai artists have been experimenting with Thailand’s traditional form of perspective, giving their paintings a surreal edge.
It’s through the architecture that you most keenly recognize Thailand’s artistic style. With an expert guide you start to understand how the design evolved over the centuries, particularly the extravagant chedis that glisten with gold leaf. While the architectural fundamentals of a Thai Buddhist temple have hardly changed, they become distinct through the murals and decoration, which change subtly from temple to temple. In some towns and cities you notice how all the temples come from a very similar era, a beautiful harmony to the design. In others, like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, there’s opportunity to follow the storyline through the centuries.
For many centuries, Chiang Mai has been renowned for its artisans and artists. But before the 1930s, the only way to reach the city was by elephant or river. Such isolation has naturally preserved the traditions in their purest historical forms. Woodcarvers and silversmiths from Chiang Mai are revered, maintaining the methods passed down from their ancestors. Their work contrasts a new age of expression, like Art Nouveau galleries and exotic design studios that barefooted monks glance at as they wander past. It’s here you can experience how traditional Thai art has been infused with a modern twist, with gallery directors taking you on a tour and local artists providing a background to their works. In addition, the abundant temples enable you to explore religious art that is influenced by neighboring countries and kingdoms, particularly Burma.
Bangkok’s art scene is flourishing, perhaps not surprising given the political overtones currently dominating the country’s social fabric. Art, as it always has been, is a form of expression that can subtly and sarcastically challenge the status quo, the element of interpretation subjective on many levels. Vibrant modern creations mix with a new style of classical representation, found in more than a dozen galleries across the city. Most are small, containing works that have influenced the Western sphere as much as the scene within Indochina. They are complemented by lively neighborhoods of street art, with graffiti the modern form of mural.
This ever-expanding world of art provides an insightful look at Bangkok’s culture, in both historical and contemporary forms. Art encounters are a regular element of our private Thailand tours, a chance to go off the beaten track in a city of contrasts and contradictions. Artists lead your exploration, galleries are opened only for you, and interactive classes provide fun activities on Thailand family tours. Bangkok is a city that doesn’t always look appealing at first glance. But it’s one where surprise is abundant and a focus on art creates a new angle when most visitors follow such standard routes.
Read about Bangkok art encounters in more depth.
Chiang Rai’s art scene is imbued with paradox. But then again, don’t all cutting-edge art scenes come with the peculiarities of contradiction? Painters and sculptors live ascetic lifestyles in the mountains, secluded from the world. Buddhist influence is stoic and strong, ensuring tradition firmly retains its place. Yet the artistic creations are from the depths of the imagination, unusual and quixotic forms that have made Chiang Rai a blossoming artistic hub in Asia. The city is now the essential stop on a Thailand art tour, with the mix of tradition and fantasy also creating an intimate focus on a broader Thailand tour.
Wat RongKhun is the most well known of the artistic manifestations, an unconventional masterpiece of artist ChalermchaiKositpipat. Shimmering in the sunlight, this white temple is part place of worship and part art gallery, with bizarre interpretations of the world cast in murals across the interior, and somewhat art nouveau shapes and sculptures dominating the facade. Across Chiang Rai, private and public galleries extend the themes of Kositpipat’s temple, full of the strange and the surreal. Arts tours in Thailand provide opportunity for you to meet the artists and explore collections closed to the public, with multi-day stops in Chiang Rai immersing you in one of the world’s up and coming art scenes.
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