One of the first evenings I was in Chiang Mai, I went out to supper with Koi and her friend Anisha, to a wonderful restaurant called Khao Soy, which, to no one’s particular surprise, specialized in a northern Thai dish called khao soy. The company was especially sympatico, the conversation was agreeable, the food was delicious. On the wall behind the girls were what appeared to be two large woodblock prints of mountains, so I got up to have a closer look. I liked them both quite well; they reminded me of a Japanese artist named Hideo Hagiwara, who did a series of thirty-six prints of Mt. Fuji.
The artist’s name was Wattanapong Yothaitiang. I snapped photos of his prints, and of the attached cards with the artist information. The price of each print was 15000 Thai baht, around $475, not inconsiderable, particularly for someone I had never heard of. On the other hand, I really liked the prints, and thought that if I could get in touch with the artist, I could perhaps negotiate a better price, especially if I were to buy several. So, later in the week, I went back to Khao Soy with Khae, Sukie and ChingChing, and asked Khae to find out the artist’s phone number from the restaurant owner. This proved to be no problem at all, and shortly thereafter Khae phoned to Wattanapong to see if he might be available to meet with us.
He proved not only to be available, but he offered to pick us up the following day and drive us to his studio, where we could have a look at his large selection of prints, paintings, and drawings, some of which were still in process. His woodblock prints differ in technique from Japanese woodblock prints in that they are printed from a single block, where Japanese prints utilize many blocks, one for each of the colors in the print. His method is called reduction woodblock printing, because for each new color to be added to the print, he must cut some of the original block away (hence “reduction”).
Wattanapong, who nowadays goes by the rather easier to pronounce nickname “Det”, picked us up at a temple in town, and the four of us (Det, Khae, Allyson, and I) headed back to his house, the entire first floor of which serves as his studio. He showed us his bio sheet, which is really impressive: works in several museums in Thailand; first prize in a couple of major Southeast Asian printmaking competitions; and he was the recipient of a gift from the Princess of Thailand in recognition of his artwork.
I wound up buying a dozen of his prints, smaller ones than the ones at the restaurant/gallery, but similar in imagery. Allyson was quite taken with two of his designs, and she bought both (one, destined for her mom, I particularly liked; it depicted a night scene with a hazy moon, that Allyson was sure would resonate strongly with her parental unit). As I thought might be the case, the artist-direct prices were more favorable, and I was really happy to be able to get that many prints from him.
Det proved to be an exceptionally affable soul as well. Although he spoke little English, he was gifted with warmth and good humor that transcended language barriers. Khae translated as we went along, and we all had quite a pleasant afternoon. His wife was with us for most of the time, and she was really sweet too, always ready with a smile. When it came time to leave, we all piled into Det’s Honda Jazz and made our way back to Khae’s house for supper.
Some of the prints will be for sale, and I will split the profits with Khae, without whose help the whole affair would never have taken place. If we make even a couple of hundred dollars on the batch of twelve, it will make a significant difference in Khae’s lifestyle. And, of course, she will be the go-to person for further purchases from Det, of which I expect there will be many!