Bangkok Noir: Beer, Bargirls, and a Paintbrush

The blogs and commercial websites have been falling all over themselves in an effort to promote the so-called “Bangkok Noir” painter Chris Coles. Saphan Loy knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to art, so it is fairly risible to see someone like Dean Barrett, William R. Morledge, or Christopher Moore promoting so heavily the Coles exhibition in Bangkok this month.

One of the symptoms of sustained exposure to the red light districts of Thailand that sex tourists routinely exhibit aside from venereal diseases is a strange desire to attempt to capture, however imperfectly, in photography, words, or, as we see here, in fluorescent paints that glow in the dark, the essence of the experience. That it is ephemeral and highly mutable with the added effects of alcohol and drugs (whether cheap sex enhancements or the like) makes the whole process somewhat dubious and deeply derivative.

It might be easy to dismiss out-of-hand the work of Coles as an artifact of the nightlife in Thailand and elsewhere that illustrates that, when one is truly addicted to the experience of sitting on a bar stool in some Patpong or Nana Plaza dumpsite, there is little else to do other than doodle on a cocktail napkin or partake in some Chang Beer induced navel-gazing. Taking it one step further and committing the whole thing to canvas seems to Saphan Loy like an act of masturbatory self-justification born not of artistic “inspiration”, but of profound feelings of guilt and sorrow.

Omitted from the Coles site is, unfortunately, a detailed price list. Although it is unlikely that Mr. Coles’ paintings will appear on Sotheby’s auction block anytime soon, the discerning sex tourist, when not haggling for the cheaper wares of the Patpong night market or eagerly pursuing beer specials, may have an altogether different artistic opinion. 

While we gave up staring at black-lit or glow-in-the-dark posters many years ago, at about the same time we gave up smoking marijuana and listening to Pink Floyd, Saphan Loy has considered purchasing a painting from Mr. Coles for the reception room of our corporate offices to position right above the love seat, preferably one showing the rictus grin of a ladyboy.

Barring that possibility, Saphan Loy proposes to commission Coles to do something on a larger, more ambitious scale. We envision a large black canvas filled with his signature fluorescent paint that shows the artist sitting alone in a mostly empty Bangkok hellhole and being visited by the worst kinds of demons of his own pathological worldview and imagination, mildly retarded with Singha beer and easily procured barbiturates, while (and here’s the tricky part) on the television screen positioned over the bar is the projection of Coppo di Marcovaldo’s medieval depiction of hell, rendered by Coles in precise and painstaking detail. 

The View from Above

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