Last weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with the talented Thai street artist Alex Face at the debut of his solo show “Neon and Fire Vanitas” at Rome’s renowned Dorothy Circus Gallery. I seized the chance to delve into his insights regarding Bangkok’s graffiti scene, and engaged in a thought-provoking conversation on the transient nature of life, a central theme resonating through his latest creations.
Alex Face (Patcharapol Tangruen, born in 1981 in Chachoengsao, Thailand) began painting in the streets in 2002.
“Back in the day, I was into hip-hop culture. It all began when a friend brought a skateboarding magazine, and I saw graffiti in it, which I thought was cool. We looked it up on the internet, browsing websites where we could explore various styles from around the world. It looked interesting, so I bought some cans—I remember buying red and white—and from the very first time I painted with a spray can, I thought: ‘Wow, this is fun.’ I experienced freedom. I have been painting my entire life; I studied at the Fine Art Academy. However, it was only when I started painting outdoors that I felt I had discovered my own style. I enjoyed venturing out and painting on abandoned walls, hanging out with my friends, discovering new spots, and making new friends. I have kept this passion alive for 20 years because painting that initial wall was so fun, and it made me embrace my freedom. Also, I appreciate that people can see what I’m doing, my artworks. They may not know who I am, but they can see my creations. Leaving a mark, something that people will see, makes me feel special. It grants me a voice.”Alex Face
For Alex Face, graffiti became a means of liberation from the constraining regulations and limitations he was taught during his studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Bangkok. Embracing the burgeoning graffiti movement in Thailand in the early 2000s, he wholeheartedly embraced the freedom it offered him as he painted on the streets.
“Back in 2002, only a few other people were doing graffiti in Thailand. Style-wise, though, the scene was similar to the original one in America, meaning Thai writers were also painting letters -classic graffiti. The pioneers of graffiti in Thailand had been exposed to it in America, some of them were born there before returning to Thailand, introducing the culture. As for myself, I just did it in my own way, since I wasn’t from America.”Alex Face
After discovering graffiti, Alex Face found a new enthusiasm in doing art. Finally, he could unleash his true self by projecting onto the walls his inner voice -and his face, literally. In his early works, Alex Face hit the empty walls of Bangkok with spray-painted images of his own face.
“Back then, my unique way of doing graffiti consisted in coming and saying Hi to people from every corner of the city. I don’t put my name everywhere, I put my face everywhere. That’s why my name is Alex Face”.Alex Face
However, he also encountered numerous challenges as he engaged in unauthorized writing within the public space.
“Some people liked it, but most of them didn’t understand what I was doing. Many times graffiti got me in trouble. Legal troubles and lots of “get out of here.” However, that’s also what I like about graffiti: everytime we go out, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. Sometimes we make new friends, sometimes we make new enemies. I think many people in Thailand didn’t understand what I was doing, even my friends or my teachers at the art school. In fact, some of my friends tried to persuade me to stop, saying I was wasting time and money. What people didn’t understand is that I was having fun. It is so much fun.”Alex Face
The turning point in Alex Face’s life and artistic career occurred in 2009 when he became a father. Since that pivotal moment, his concerns shifted towards the world in which his daughter would grow up. It was during this time that Mardi, now an iconic character associated with Alex Face, came to life. This child-in-a-bunny-onesie serves as a representation of the emotions evoked when confronting a troubled world from the perspective of a vulnerable child. At first glance, Mardi appears innocent and endearing, but upon closer examination, one can discern the prematurely aged face of an elderly individual burdened with worry. This imagery effectively captures the delicate nature of childhood innocence when confronted with a society that prioritizes profit above all else.
“After having a child I started worrying a lot about the future -in my city, in my country, on this planet. It wasn’t just me anymore, and I worried about how new generations will grow up in the modern world. Nowadays people are talking a lot about global warming and climate change, many things can go worse for new generations.”Alex Face
Mardi frequently features a third eye, symbolizing the spiritual dimension and adding an additional layer of significance to Alex Face’s evocative and poignant murals that can be found throughout the world.
Alex Face is dedicated to utilizing his art as a means to raise awareness of social issues and ignite a transformative impact. Numerous of his artworks tackle subjects encompassing environmentalism, consumerism, and the repercussions of modernization on traditional cultures. His artistic creations have been showcased in esteemed galleries and museums spanning Asia, Europe, and the United States. Presently, his compelling pieces are simultaneously exhibited at the renowned Dorothy Circus Gallery, captivating audiences in both Rome and London. Join me in experiencing the exhibition in Rome!
Alex Face: “Neon and Fire Vanitas” at Dorothy Circus Gallery
At “Neon and Fire Vanitas,” Alex Face skillfully projects the essence of 17th-century Vanitas into the contemporary era, infusing it with his distinct perspective and personal artistic vision.
Vanitas is a concept in art history that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly in Dutch and Flemish painting. Derived from the Latin term for “vanity,” Vanitas artworks were intricately crafted to serve as poignant reminders of life’s fleeting nature, the inescapability of death, and the emptiness of material possessions. These works often incorporated symbolic elements, symbolizing the brevity and impermanence of human existence. Although Vanitas art originated within a specific historical context, its underlying themes and symbolic representations continue to resonate in the modern world, provoking contemplation regarding the essence of being and the pursuit of worldly pleasures.
Alex Face’s artwork currently exhibited at the Dorothy Circus Gallery beautifully extends the themes explored in the 2020 exhibition “Monument of Hope” (held at Bangkok CityCity Gallery), which served as a reflection on the pandemic.
“The pandemic forced me to reflect upon the fragility of life, drawing a comparison between the transient nature of a flower and our lives threatened by a virus. The exhibition in Bangkok was conceived and produced during the pandemic, and this current showcase at Dorothy Circus Gallery serves as its ideal continuation.”Alex Face
As implied by the title, the current exhibition introduces two distinct elements: neon and fire. Through their portrayal, Alex Face not only showcases his technical prowess in handling spray cans but also symbolizes, respectively, the future and the past.
Living in the present is indeed a common response to the transience of life offered by philosophers over the centuries. However, in Alex Face’s body of work, the present beauty is juxtaposed with concern for the fate of future beauty.
In the realm of Art History, the depiction of wilting flowers and decaying fruits in Vanitas art symbolized the transient beauty and inevitable decay of all living things. In contemporary times, images portraying a withering nature alongside elements like seashells, bees, and butterflies set ablaze also convey an important environmental statement. These images emphasize a concern that has consistently been present in Alex Face’s artistic production.
I believe Alex Face’s memento mori goes beyond inviting us to seize the day and contemplate the deeper meaning of life. It also urges us to acknowledge the responsibility we, as humans, bear in the destruction of the planet.
The walk back home from the beautiful location in the heart of Rome of the Dorothy Circus Gallery prompted me to delve deeper into my thoughts. As much as I treasure the value of those things that last, namely the century-old cobbled-stone streets beneath my feet and the magnificent churches and buildings that have withstood countless disasters over the centuries, I also find admiration for what will disappear inevitably sooner: the tags, throw-ups, posters, and stickers I could catch sight of along my stroll -vibrant expressions of an art form I hold dear precisely because of its evanescence.
Street art challenges conventional notions of art’s longevity as it thrives within the dynamic and ever-changing urban landscape. Its ephemerality accentuates the significance of the present moment, the immediate experience, and the profound connection between the artist, the artwork, and the viewer. By embracing ephemerality, street artists challenge the established perceptions of permanence, fully embracing the present moment to leave their mark behind.
However, this mark is inevitably fleeting, which made me wonder: how can we find solace and purpose in a world that constantly reminds us of our own transience?
Perhaps, the answer lies within the enigmatic visage of Mardi: by shifting our gaze towards the generations yet to come. In doing so, we must recognize our responsibility to shape a better world for the future, particularly in the context of the environment. As we witness the ephemerality of life and art, let us also reflect on the transient nature of our planet’s resources and the urgent need for environmental stewardship. By embracing sustainability and nurturing our planet, we can leave a lasting legacy that transcends the fleeting, fostering a thriving planet for all.
Don’t miss Alex Face’s “Neon and Fire Vanitas” at Dorothy Circus Gallery!
Dorothy Circus Gallery in Rome
“Neon and Fire Vanitas”
A solo show by Alex Face
From May 20th to June 16th
Via dei Pettinari, 71
Dorothy Circus Gallery in London
“Neon and Fire Vanitas”
A solo show by Alex Face
From May 25th to June 13th
35 Connaught Street
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