What would you take home from Thailand?
On first inspection, tourist islands like Koh Samui appear to bring the obvious out in both the purveyors and consumers of mementos. But look a little deeper and you soon find an altogether more creative side to the island’s art and craft. The artists’ community is growing all the time and it’s now possible to source original paintings, batiks and ceramics to give your home that unique touch.
Khun Khanchai is the island’s top ceramic artist. From a huge workshop and studio in Mae Nam he produces original pieces that draw on the island’s natural beauty and his work would make a welcome artistic addition to any home. Khanchai sources most of his materials locally and even applies special techniques such as wood ash glazing to ensure very few chemicals are used in the process. Two giant kilns are used to fire plates, ashtrays, cups, bowls and vases, many of which he sells to hotels and spas around the island. But his real love is creating original ceramic art and some of the pieces on display in his showroom are truly unique.
Khanchai takes his inspiration from nature, observing the shapes, colours and textures around him and translating them by hand. He can take several weeks to finish a gourd or vase, testing samples to create exactly the right feeling and experimenting with colours before adding the final glaze. He has also introduced mixed media designs, adding bolts and metal to crown some of his pieces, but the essence of his work remains steadfastly grounded in the natural world.
“New technologies allow artists to create more sophisticated, abstract designs, but I prefer to base may work in nature,” he explained. “When you dig beneath the ground you find calm and quiet. I use the substance of the earth to create pieces that remind me how simple beauty can be.”
Khanchai’s commercial pieces are always in great demand and by combining his art with a solid business model he has built a strong reputation on the island. He is also keen to pass on his knowledge and skills and regularly hosts visiting students from art colleges around the country, who come to learn from his techniques and inspiration.
“I often set my students topics and then ask them to create symbols in clay. It’s a valuable process as it makes them reflect on the value of simple concepts, he said.
The results are often original and dramatic, as are most of the pieces that fill Khanchai’s spacious, glass-walled showroom. Whether practical or artistic, his carefully crafted works of art seem to demand they be handled and enjoyed.