TH FOLLOWING COURTESY OF THE NATION NEWSPAPER IN BANGKOK- Chris Coles, the American expressionist painter who’s spent so many years in Thailand that every evening stroll becomes a neon nightmare, has suddenly gone all flowery.
Faced with the predicament of having no paintings that his mother back in Maine would be proud to show her friends – his usual subjects are go-go dancers and their lusty patrons – Coles did the rounds of the garden.
And now six floral portraits are among the 21 works going on view in the exhibition “Flowers, One Butterfly and the Bangkok Night”, opening on Thursday at the Brainwake Cafe and Gallery on Sukhumvit Soi 33.
Apart from the buds and the butterfly (of which more in a moment), the pieces in the show are more typical of Coles’ output – snapshots from the garish nightlife of Bangkok and Pattaya (and Phnom Penh, recently added to the itinerary) and of the denizens that crowd into it.
This is no “nightmare” for him, of course, but rather a tantalising and endlessly compelling tableau in need of recording. There are drunks and ladyboys and drunken ladyboys, shrieking signage and hi-so hangers-out.
“Many of my expressionist-style noir paintings are drawn from the context of the Bangkok night, a vast, multi-layered entertainment spectacle that involves all manner of people from Southeast Asia, Asia and the entire world,” Coles says in a promotion for the exhibition.
And amid this spectacle he has witnessed flowers grow, flourish and wither.
“While my ‘Bangkok Night’ paintings are drawn from and inspired by the people, visuals and ambience of the actual Bangkok night, they also present a metaphorical vision of a noir, globalised, modern world where people of every background and status mix and mingle in all sorts of ways, alienated, predatory and calculating, clinging to good intentions as well as bad, with intimacy and feelings both real and imagined.”
There are, he says, “all sorts of consequences and outcomes, both intended and unintended”.
“But in the metaphorical, more generalised sense, Bangkok’s many thousands of night workers can also be seen as colourful, sometimes beautiful, often sweetly fragrant flowers which beckon to the many colourful butterflies and hungry bees floating by to pause, say hello and visit.
“Tragically, the lifespan of these thousands of flowers is often very short, an all-too-rapid but inevitable transition between birth, blooming, replication, decay and death.”
The flowers, as Coles points out, invariably draw the metaphorical butterflies and bees, attracted by their radiance and scent and hungry for their pollen, so to speak. These visitors “are in a rush themselves to mate and replicate before their own brief moment of life in this world comes to an end”.
The metaphor naturally applies perfectly well also to Bangkok’s “tens of thousands of sex workers and their hundreds of thousands of customers”, he says. In fact one suspects that it’s this particular end of the biosphere that Coles had in mind all along.
The artist sheds none of his bold composition and heavy blocks of pigment in rendering what might ostensibly be “delicate” flora. A botanist might be hard-tasked to identify the individual species, but there’s no denying the impact of these canvases.
They’re not going to turn anyone into a naturalist, but they are memorable, and they do sit well alongside “Beer Bar Asoke” and “Midnight Patpong”.
Traveler’s Guide: “Flowers, One Butterfly and the Bangkok Night” opens at 7pm on Thursday at the the Brainwake Cafe and Gallery, 27/1 Sukhumvit Soi 33, BANGKOK, THAILAND