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Vipoo Srivilasa
Thai ceramist resident in Australia


Lai Krarm: New Works by Vipoo Srivilasa. Article by Stephen Benwell.

The collection of ceramic works that Vipoo Srivilasa has brought together for this exhibition surprises with a barrage of visual information. The artist describes, in a series of bowls and vases, a tale of intimate occurrences, each one glimpsed briefly and then left behind as a new thought is brought into focus. It is a spontaneous narrative in which the images have been stored up for the last six or seven years until they have suddenly flooded out. In these pots are memories of an earlier life in Bangkok, his present life in Australia and here and there, little invocations of a future life.

We sense in these works Vipoo’s excitement in exploring the narrative possibilities of ceramics, a mode that has many precursors but one that is sometimes avoided by practitioners. Descriptive passages of daily life are apparent throughout the long history of painting on ceramics and it is in this context that we should place Vipoo’s work. He is a good storyteller – fluent, opinionated, varied and flamboyant. He has a free-flowing and non-didactic style that is just as insightful as any more theoretical analysis of contemporary culture. These pots, when looked at together, form a catalogue of minutiae, the sort of information that will be invaluable to an archaeologist working to retrieve the past in some future excavation.

How are we to interpret so many competing images? One way is to take Vipoo’s lead and respect the divisions that separate each painted segment. We are not meant to resolve his story into a neat, harmonious whole. Instead we are made to feel, uncomfortably at times, the difficulty of making sense of his story. As well, the barricaded pictures are each protected from the influences that threaten to displace each other. Buddhist iconography jostles with emblems of Australian culture. Fashion models rub shoulders with skeletons and vital organs. Consumer goods are compared to the timeless motifs of Thai art. Each motif is offered uncritically and without a hierarchical structure. Confusion reigns but even in this idea we feel that Vipoo gives us a faithful recording of an imperfect, disturbing and endlessly variable world.

Historical ironies abound in this work too. In the seventeenth century, the artistry of East Asia was a revelation to the wealthy connoisseurs of Europe. When the crates of imported porcelain were unpacked in the warehouses of Amsterdam and London, a collecting mania developed for the blue and white vases with their vistas of dreamy mountains where scholars rested amidst an exquisite rendering of nature. Vipoo’s vases recall this famous and influential trade in ceramics. Sent from Australia whose role in East Asia continues to be debated, his vases will be unpacked in Bangkok and exhibited there. While the seventeenth century trade routes no longer prevail, the art of blue and white porcelain continues to serve as exchange between cultures, bringing to a curious audience in Bangkok some vignettes of Australian life.

In Vipoo’s work, blue and white porcelain emerges in a hybrid form. By grafting his contemporary ceramic practice onto that grand tradition, and juxtaposing emblems of Thai and Australian culture, he reorientates its settled expectations. Aside from the contemporary and historical contexts of these pots, there is the simple pleasure that can be taken by looking into the rich indigo blue as it sinks into the brittle white porcelain. Since its invention by Chinese potters during the Yuan dynasty, blue and white porcelain has become probably the best-loved and most ubiquitous genre of ceramics. In Vipoo’s pots, the seemingly effortless magic of the materials provides the artist with the means to release an outpouring of imagery. He delves into a narrative style whose inventive scope strains at the containing forms of vase, bottle and bowl.

Stephen Benwell is a ceramic artist living in Melbourne, Australia. He is a PHD candidate at Monash University.

Lai Krarm: Thai word for porcelain with design in indigo blue. Lai Krarm exhibited in Bangkok, Thailand in 2005. This article is part of the exhibition catalogue. The artist's website: www.vipoo.com. Vipoo is represented by Über Gallery, Melbourne www.ubergallery.com.

Images courtesy Vipoo Srivilasa. © The Artist


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