The girl behind the paintings

Even though it’s located on the edge of Bangkok, we made sure we were there at the opening of Anchalee “Ja” Arayapongpanit’s art exhibition at ARDEL Gallery of Modern Art. This is her third solo show and it’s named “Thriller and Horror”. Her artworks are distinctive through their strong portrayal of women, essentially big-eyed cartoon versions of the artist herself. This time round, Ja put herself inside her favourite movie scenes from thriller and horror genres. The shy artist talked to us about the messages behind her paintings which are on display at ARDEL Gallery of Modern Art ( until June 25. Some of them have already been sold.

When did you realise you wanted to become an artist?

I knew from the beginning that I love drawing cartoons. I was an upcountry girl who studied at a local school which didn’t emphasise the study of art. I’m a lifelong fan of cartoons and I loved drawing big-eyed characters since I was young. So, after finishing high school, I started to search for a place that would allow me to draw and sketch all day. That led me to the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts at Silpakorn University, where it all started. It still didn’t occur to me that I would create art for a living. I just wanted to draw every day.

How did your signature style of putting cartoon-ised versions of yourself in your work come about?

While I was studying at uni, I met so many talented classmates and I aspired to be as good as them. One day I finished a portrait of a woman and I was proud of it until I looked at what the others did. Theirs were so life-like while mine looked cartoonish. I was embarrassed by it actually. Later I tried to draw portraits of my relatives but they still didn’t look realistic. This put me off making portraits of people for a long while.

When approaching my graduation, I seriously asked myself again what I would like to draw the most. I realised I wanted to draw women but I didn’t want to bother anyone to be my model. So I painted my own face. I can do that anywhere, for however long I like and I can do it for free. I also decided to marry cartoon and portrait drawing into my own style. I turned what I thought was my flaw (her cartoon drawing tendencies) as an artist into my signature. At the end of the day, doing so made me happy with my work. It also allowed me freedom and fun because I didn’t have to be so realistic. I can play with proportions and change the costume and hair of my subject. It’s also more fun!

What is the message you want to convey through your paintings?

It depends on how you see them, but personally they are based on my own liking. I derive inspiration from the Hollywood movies that I enjoy watching. They leave me with what I call residual feelings. For an ordinary girl who loves drawing and staying home like myself, I want to draw something fun or something that has actually never happened to me. To escape from my normal life. It was liberating for me to create them.

How is your latest exhibition “Thriller Horror” different from your previous ones?

The first exhibition, “Lady Image”, showcased motorcycles and introduced me as an explorer. The second one, “Lady Image 2”, featured strong and confident women. This time, it’s purely about releasing all my stress into the pieces and turning them into representations of my favourite films. Most have serious storylines.

Why the big eyes?

What I’ve told other people is that I love drawing cartoons and they have big eyes. But on a personal level, it is actually because I am shy. When people look at me, I don’t make eye contact and sometimes I even look away. That’s why I wanted to draw a character that’s me, but with bigger eyes that scan and look at everything and to be confident just like that. I draw what I aspire to be. I wanted to draw a character that is opposite to me — a much more confident, daring persona, which is a striking contrast to who I really am. Both in style and character.

Aside from art, what else are you interested in?

Actually, no, nothing apart from drawing. There is so much more for me to work on, so I will keep on drawing.

What’s next for you?

It’s all about doing my own thing and doing it well. We don’t know what the future holds. I just have to give it the best shot with the work that’s lying in front of me today.