I talked to Vipoo Srivilasa about his ceramic art and his unbearable lightness of being. Vipoo’s answers shed a lot of light on his work and personality; it is often important that the work gets seen in this context and not only in isolation.
The current wave of fancy for blue and white in contemporary ceramics generally takes its departure from the great western library of historical references. There are many good examples of how this aesthetic is re-invented and resurrected by contemporary ceramic artists. Acknowledging the eastern origins of fine porcelain is therefore even more interesting from an oriental point of view; one of these artists that explore the wealth of Asian ceramic tradition is Vipoo Srivilasa, a native from Thailand that established himself in Australia. His work is beautifully laced with references of oriental spirituality but at the same time express a combination of ideas about contemporary culture.
Being respectful of the religious views of others is very important to Vipoo, who himself is a practicing Buddhist; ‘I use a lot of symbols; many from different religions. However, before I use it I need to make sure that I use it in a way that does not offend people of those religions. For example I never use images of Buddha and Jesus on my work. Instead I use a lotus stand or halo.’
These works often take the shape of altarpieces and as such they are delicately decorated examples of his reverence.
Although admitting that he is not often conscious of his commentary on consumerism and modern lifestyle, he incorporates many elements of contemporary society such as the fashion, social-media, google and advertising.
‘I don’t view conventional modern society as a threat. it is part of my life. What I say in my work is what I experience and I am properly part of it also. Maybe deep down I am a rebel.’
Still, it does seem as if these objects are almost replacing their implied ancient religiousness to become idols of new social affinities. This irony expresses a duplicity that certainly resonates with society’s undeniable integration with technology and its continuous need for spiritual security.
His figurative sculptures remain faceless and have a distinct anthromorphic quality about them. In his opinion this is because he wants his sculpture to be viewed without distraction of emotion on their faces. There are many stories he weaves into the work, which he’d like people to find by closer investigation. This results in an induced intimacy with the work and as he explains; ‘I think when people see a face they just look at the face first to identify what the face say. Also without a face they are less threatening. People feel more comfortable to explore the sculpture without feeling that someone is staring back at them. Further more without face, the sculpture presents an aura of a sacred object’, then in jest he also manages to add; ‘But really, it is too hard to add facial features onto small faces!’
The history of ceramic deified objects is rich and varied and this is poignantly alluded to in his use of lustre to convey their importance and preciousness.
It exemplifies their spiritual importance and the inspiration that Vipoo derives from his own religion;
‘I use religious images as inspiration but properly not the religion it self.’
Having said that one particular series, Rop-Rote-Ruang (Taste-Touch-Tell), used the Buddhist philosophy of Ayatana to create the work.
The Roop-Rote-Ruang (Taste-Touch-Tell) Project was a series of dinner parties, hosted by Vipoo. The dinner embraced the Buddhist concept of “Ayatana”, the six channels of awareness where guests’ sight, taste, smell, hearing, touch and mindfulness were all engaged.
His preoccupation with the aspects of the human form is no coincidence since his compassion for people is very evident.
‘I love working with people. I think it changed the way I see ceramics and the way I work with clay. Clay is not just material that make functional pot or sculpture to me. It can also record stories from communities or serve as connection between people.’
This connection is the voice that Vipoo uses and how he translates his work into these memorable objects, his respect for the medium, the viewer and the message is sensitively profound;
‘I love connecting people to art, making and seeing them so happy with the result it has. It gives me energy. My two dream projects that I want to do, also involve people. One is working with a sick child in a hospital. I want to ask them to draw image of their super hero that can heal them and cure their sickness. Then I want turn their super hero into a fine ceramic work and soft toy (working with soft toy artists). The soft toy will be given to the kids and the ceramics will be sold for fund raising. ‘
Another dream project of his would be one that enabled a large group of people to see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel his multi-cultured experience through ceramic, food, flowers and music. He is greatly interested in creating opportunities for sharing his experiences amongst complete strangers. If he didn’t work with clay he would be happiest working with people;
‘I work in a series format and each series talk about what I concern at the time of making. I do like the idea of my work can spread messages to people. Art is a powerful tool.’
The communication is not one sided though, he is open to criticism and finds it is the exchange and commentary that helps him to understand his work better, but he remains firm; ‘it does not mean I will follow people opinion. I still make what I like and what I enjoy. I found when I try to make work that I think will please people, it ends up pleasing no one, if I make work that pleases myself, at least I am happy and usually people like it too.’
The more practical issues of producing the work can result in a journey of itself: his explanations surrounding his technique has a mix of dreamy realism about it;
‘I often dream after I’ve eaten pizza! I Don’t know why. In fact,. i hardly remember my dream.’
Vipoo’s works explore the inherent commonalities between the cultures of his native Thailand and his new home of Australia. He uses blue and white as a reference to the export of ‘Blue and White’ porcelain from China to the rest of the world. This is also a reference to his own personal migration from Thailand to Australia, from East to West. One of the key technical differences between his modern blue and white style and the more traditional style, is the surface texture of the work. Traditional blue and white has a clear glaze applied over the porcelain, giving the work a gloss finish and ensuring the durability of the surface. Vipoo has developed a specific blue colour formula that can be applied to porcelain and fired at porcelain temperatures of 1220 degrees without the need for glazing to seal the work.
When asked about his favourite part of the process of creating, it seemed that he likes everything about it. From the research, looking for data, information or images that he can incorporate into his work to help make it communicate his sentiments to shaping or hand building and decorating the work, he uses his abilities to translate a three dimensional object into a base for his narratives. He also illuminates the questions surrounding his methods and artistic processes. His main frustrations seem to be confined to two main issues;
‘The first one is to start up a new series, get a new ideas going. I often end up with too many good ideas. It frustrating not be able to do them all but narrow down to just one. It is very hard to choose just one idea for a series.
The second one is firing. I have to wait for 2 days before i can open my kiln. I want my work to completely cool that I can unload with my bare hands. I use an old electric kiln in my studio so after turn it on i go home. At home i often worry if the firing will go wrong because the kiln is quite old. But it has never happened…….. yet.’
His studio space has liberated his work methodology and he explains its effects with breathless excitement. He has a studio which is about 30 mins from his home, where he has been working for the last 10 years and now shares with two other artists.
‘One art critic said to me that I work in one of the smallest studio he has ever seen!
My studio is very small but it trained me to be organised and clean. I need to plan in advance where to put finished works, drying work and bisque work. Otherwise the studio will have no space to walk in.’
One can imagine that the spaces and places of artists can have a major influence on their work and in this Vipoo is no exception;
‘The small space does affect my work in some way but I cannot say how. I only notice it when I expanded my studio earlier this year and moved all my shelves out. The empty room made me think clearer and faster. It also allowed me to make bigger pieces and allowed me to look at my work properly without distraction.
Working away from home benefited me a lot. I can now concentrate better in my studio. I used to have two studios. The current one and one at home. When I worked from home, I ended up with a very nice and clean house. Somehow I always had an excuse to clean the house first and house cleaning is an endless task. I hardly got any ceramic work done but my partner liked it.’
It is clear that Vipoo’s work seeks engagement as a means of expression and it is crucial to the artist to communicate and share. Through the naive and idealistic passion that drives the creation of his work and aside from the obvious religious and historical connections, Vipoo succeeds in generating an innocent spiritual connection, which at its heart remains completely enlightening.