R.I.P. – 1921-2014
A famous and revered shaman in northern Thailand, Phor Nan Ton was also a well-known artist who used his creativity in the past to decorate temples and to draw yantra shirts and cloths. His healing skills were also reknowned and brought people to him even in his last years. One of his trademarks was to dress in women’s attire to fool the evil spirits and thus make his work more effective.
At ninety years old (2011) he was still actively creating paintings and drawings and we are pleased to be able to offer some more recent, as well as much older, works.
In the tradition of many so-called ‘folk’ artists he used what materials were at hand, be they cardboard, paper, advertising posters, wooden boards… whatever.
Nor was he particular about how the finished work was treated: many pieces were put outside on his porch, or in his ‘sala’. Some lined the walls in his home, one atop another, subject to water leaks, teething kittens, insects, rodents, etc.
Part of our mission has been to rescue these works, and part of it is to bring his singular vision to a wider audience. These are works of myth, religion and spirituality- Buddhist mostly, but informed by the wisdom and knowledge of a rich, long life. For us as viewers, there is much here to learn from, and much to delight the eye.
This panoramic depiction of an Akha village is an idealized version typical of the Thai perception of the hilltribes. The costumes are ‘folklorized’ versions often seen in Thai stage shows for tourists.( However, some details are correct: the carrying baskets with forehead straps, baskets loaded with tubes representing either firewood or bamboo tubes for carrying water (detail 1).) It is also unlikely that an Akha village will be beside a stream, as they reside on the tops of the mountains, not in the lowlands. Curiously, a Hornbill bird is perched in a tree in Detail 1. Rendered in paint on a wooden board, with the colors softened with age, this used to hang in the shaman’s home.
Size: 45″ x 13″
This colorful scene shows an idyllic forest with an elaborate temple (for a forest), a ‘reusi’ (‘rishi’/sage/hermit) dressed in tiger skins and sitting in a meditative position, male and female royals, a red dog, and other typical animals of the forest- wild boar and deer. The flora is quite exuberant- perhaps symbolizing the rich bounty of the forest. Executed in marker and water color on cardboard, this was formerly decorating the shaman’s home. A crude frame of bamboo strips is an appropriate surround.
Size: 31.5″ x 21.5″
Depicting Phra Mae Nam Kongka, or Goddess/Mother of the Ganges, this painting gives evidence of the strong influence India had on Thai culture. The Thai festival of Loy Kratong honors this deity. She is mounted on a large fish representing Phra Anon, the fish deity. Very colorfully rendered in gouache, pen and paint on heavyweight drawing paper, this has an added surprise on the back of a drawing of the animals leaving the city due to urban development.
Size: 22″ x 30″
The deity Phra Narai, or Vishnu in the Hindu cosmology, is shown here rendered in gouache and marker pen on heavy drawing paper. In Thailand he symbolizes generosity and is superior to all other gods. As Vishnu, he is one of three principal deities and is worshipped as the protector of the world. He is often depicted with multiple arms holding his tools. This colorful, dynamic version is pure Thai, showing him posturing against the threat of multiple cobras.
Size: 22″ x 30″
Painted and kept by Phor Nan Ton, a famous shaman in northern Thailand, this old cloth panel was hung in his home for protection from malevolent spirits. The red bull is a powerful figure which is known to fight tigers, which are also considered very powerful. On cotton with handstitched edge, it is classic Thai folk art.
Size: 36″ x 18″
By Phor Nan Ton, this painting on cotton cloth depicts ‘apsaras’/dancers in their finery holding royal, seven-tiered umbrellas outside of a temple in the heavenly realm. The pigments appear to be marker pen and have faded somewhat, giving it an ethereal quality.
Size: 26.75″ x 19″
Depicting the Shwe Dagon temple in Rangoon, this is a particularly lively and colorful rendition showing multiple roofs, various wall decorations, and even helicopters in the sky. Rendered in colored marker on lightweight cardboard it is a pure ‘folk’ version of a famous architectural and religious landmark. Associated with the zodiac year of the horse (in the Thai zodiac), this is the temple to which one born in that year makes a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
Size: 14″ x 23″