Thawan Duchanee

Buddhism, Brush Strokes and the Black House

3 min readJan 11, 2021


Want Surreal Modern Expressionism? Duchanee is your man.

Thawan Duchanee, photo. MOCA BAngkok

He was born in Northern Thailand and went on to become its most celebrated (and national) artist. He was a sculptor, a painter and an architect, having received formal fine art education from the age of fifteen and studied under the Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci at the Silpakorn University. He went to Amsterdam in pursuit of knowledge at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts and then returned to Thailand and steadily gained a repute for himself for being the creator of heavy, intensely colored art with Buddhist, spiritual and traditional themes.

Untitled, Thawan Duchanee. Gallery

His work draws heavily from the Buddhist and Hindu gods and themes and include his imaginings of the Buddha, Mara, the moon and various other gods. Due to this interpretive work off of the Thai Buddhist tradition, his work was even vandalism in the early ’70s where a group of students who considered his work as blasphemy damaged his paintings at his first solo exhibition.

An account by the Bangkok Post, tells that the artist “staying true to his jovial form” proceeded to destroy some of this work himself, saying that it was a mere case of misinterpretation.

The man was said to have a carefree, open and unreserved personality and is quoted by the Daily Art Magazine as having said,

“My work is my love made visible, I work with all my heart and soul.”

Amongst his prolific achievements is making the Queen laugh (Yes, THE Queen).

Horse Sighting of the Moon, Thawan Duchanee. Artnet

Duchanee, despite his imaginative swirls and strokes of paint preferred not being associated with any art style or movement. In 2004, during an interview for the exhibition “Trinity,” which was held at The Queen’s Gallery, Bangkok he said,

“I am not a surrealist, I am Thawan Duchanee.”

Duchanee viewed the world through a monochrome lens, considering two sides of everything. This belief appeared in his work as juxtaposition and contrast of ideas, forms or images often with multiple themes of philosophy and religion.

Untitled, Thawan Duchanee, 1982. Rama

But let us now talk of his infrastructural masterpiece, the Baan Dam Compound in Chiang Rai. A visual manifestation of his intertwining philosophies and spiritual aspirations, the compound consists of 40 houses that house a major portion of his art and work. The facade of the houses and their architectural design is as refined, sublime and intricate as it is black and macabre. The words “Baan Dam” means Black House or Temple.

Baan Dam Museum , architecture, Thawan Duchanee. Thazier
Baan Dam Museum, architecture, Thawan Duchanee. Zoom on Contemporary Art

“Everything in here represents the circle of life — birth, ageing and decay.” — Thawan Duchanee

Leaving the Black House and a vast body of work as his legacy, Duchanee died in 2014 and his funeral was held in Bangkok.

Self, Thawan Duchanee. Daily Art Magazine




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