Friday, October 28, 2011

Sino-Colonial Architecture on Phuket

Green Shuttered house in Thalang Rd. Phuket Town

Blue Shutters, Phang Nga Rd.

One of the wonderful surprises in life is to experience the unexpected, Phuket's Sino-Colonial buildings is one of those surprises. Sometimes  referred to as Sino- Portuguese due to the early involvement of Portugal in this part of the world, but the buildings draw very much on Classical and Renaissance references. The early examples have grown out of the Chinese shophouse, a traditional building style brought to Phuket by the early migrants for 19th cent. tin mining. Many of these early building were constructed with a colonnade walkway no doubt to allow a dry free passage during the monsoon season. On my many walks around old Phuket Town, taking photos and doing some hundred drawings of these structure, I would come upon some of the early survivors. Many unfortunately have been bricked up to create larger shops. These Walkways were called Koh Kald Which means a five foot way in the local dialect.

Phuket Wiring in Thalang Road

Art Nouveau releif with Chinese decoration on ground floor

Traditional Chinese house

Most of the current buildings are of a Neo-Classical or Art Nouveau design, with floral relief. These structures were erected during what the locals call the second stage and have been greatly influenced by architecture in Penang and Malay with whom Phuket carried out intensive trade after British colonisation.Generally the ground floors retain many Chinese influences, particularly in door design and wall features. The upper floors present a far more European face to the world with their french window shutters, arches and fan windows above, while the facade is broken up with pilasters, keystones and relief sculpture. Much of this relief has Art Nouveau influence, while the capitals on columns and pilasters present an Asian European mix.I took great delight in drawing the many varied fan windows much to the amusement of the locals. Some shop offered me a chair to sit on the narrow pavement, they seem to take much pride in the towns architecture.

Colonial upper floor with Chinese ground floor.

Art Nouveau relief sculpture

Phang Nga Rd. converted lower floor for comercial use.

During the 1930's Art Deco concepts were introduced which add another variant to the rich textured facades. With the introduction of "modern" architectural practice reinforced concrete offered many new possibilities with a more cubist feel to the buildings.One of the most pleasing features of Phuket's architecture has been the consistent reference to the older generation of buildings, so the total appearance of the old town has a harmony that is often lacking in so many 20th cent. cities.

Classical window features on commerical building, Phang Nga Rd.

Commerical Building in Sino-Classical style.

Luckily the citizens of Phuket are very proud of their architecture and many have been newly painted and restored, while others await restoration. I only hope this trend continue as the diverse, but harmonious unity add considerable charm to the town and must greatly add to their tourist value. I have included several working drawings I made along with a few photos .

Typical Fan Window Design.

Girl at the window Krabi Road.

Typical upper story.

Clock Tower Phuket Town. in much need of renovation.

Cleaned up image of clock tower.

Phuket streetscape.

Art Deco version of Sino-Colonial.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Masks of Asia

Japanese Mask

Sketches of masks from West Bengal

One of my life long passions has been the collecting of various cultural and ethnic objects, it was with great delight that I discovered an exhibition of Asian masks recently in Bangkok. Portugal's Orient Museum in Lisbon had sent out the collection as part of the 500th year celebration marking diplomatic relations with Thailand. Staged in the new Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, the exhibition presented a wide variety of work from all the corners of Asia.

Subject unknown

Sketches of masks from Sri Lanka
The old man and the Yakun for exorcist ritual carried out to chase away disease

Demon mask  West Bengal?

Wayang Topeng[left] Tibetan Cloth mask.
Bottom mask Prince Maname

The collection covers a wide range of religious, ritualistic and theatrical masks. Cloth masks from Tibet, Bird and animal works from the Wayang Topeng and some sickening Old Man masks from Sri Lanka with his counter part, the matching demon Gurula Raksa. This ritual takes place when someone fall ill and the spirits are called upon to drive out the evil and restore the victim's health.

Subject unknown

Top row Guan Yu Chinese god of war & Chinese monk.
Two wooden mask from the Himalayas

West Bengal supplied several animal masks such as elephants, crocodile and formalized tigers. China was represented by monks among other items including several of Guan Yu, the god of war. There were some very unusual art works from the Himalayas. No photos were allowed so I spent an hour doing quick sketches of the pieces between the rounds of the guard. I don't think they liked anyone drawing either for what reasons I will never know! Luckily I had a few Balinese examples in my personal collection ,so I have substituted them instead.

Subject unknown

Balinese [personal collection]

This Kwok On collection is part of over 10,000 objects in this ethnographic museum, so I must make a note to visit if I am in Lisbon again. However for now and this is my second visit I am just enjoying these wonderful cultural object from many of the great Asian civilizations.

Balanese Princess [personal collection]

Balanese [personal collection]

If you ever fined yourself in Bangkok be sure to visit the Art and Cultural Centre there is always something worth while going on. Exhibitions, concerts or jazz session, there was even a Portuguese Fardo event coming up. Unfortunately the exhibition did not label the various work, so I must apologize for the lack of imformation about names and stories behind the masks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Phuket, Vegitable Eating Festival.

Yellow Festival Flags Phuket.

Street kitchen Phuket Town.

The Festival started on the 24 September, the start of my 75th year, so what more fitting occasion could I ask for than to sit here in an open air dinning room listening to a female voices chanting Buddhist  chant . They drift through the air, the music has a  soft and mesmeric quality accompanied by some form of reed pipes. This chanting was to continue for the next nine day at Kata Country House for the duration of the Vegetable Eating Festival. Their rhythmic harmonic cords follow a repetitive structure up and down. I am not sure whether nine plays any role in the chants, but the number plays an important role in the Festival as it is held in the ninth month for nine days. Tradition holds that nine immortals return to earth each year to assist people who are struggling to lead satisfactory lives.

Phuket Main Temple,
Centre for the Festival.

Another Vegan Street Kitchen.
Participants need to register and only eat a vegan diet for the nine days to cleanse their bodies of toxin. Luckily the resort at which I am staying has put on a special menue for the duration, the things they can do with tofu borders on the amazing. On the final day participants attend the temple [ hopefully they have been doing so over the nine days] to hear their names read out, so the immortals my take their names back to the other world. The Phuket Chinese built a special temple for this Taoist Lent. These fasting ceremonies as practiced by Taoist are called "Chai".

Apparently in 1825 Phuket suffered from a fever, but a group of Chinese actors under took a fast and were not affected. A Chinese resident named Kang-Si thought thought local religious practice differed from Taoist ritual in China and offered to go to China and search for the necessary statues, items and healing books. The local Chinese collected the money and when he returned on the 7th day of the ninth lunar month with talismans, magic formulas and a sign to place in front of the shrine the Festival was born. It is claimed that disease is caused by bad actions, thoughts and behavior. Fasting expels the toxin from the body allowing good feeling to return. I must say I felt very good after only six days.

Phuket Temple.

Devotees making offerings
While I was in Phuket the Chinese community dressed in white as a sign of purity and were all on best behaviour, no over charging or asking silly pricing. There are a number of commitments that need to be followed such as only eating vegetable, no acholic beverage, no sex, cleanliness and so on. If  you don't follow the commitments you fail. This verdict is arrived at by a number of tests such as walking on hot coals, piecing your body with sharp objects. On the the final days I saw a number of participants being driven around in the back of a Ute looking for intent and purposes with out discomfort with sharp spikes pushed through their cheeks. Taoist in China do not follow this self harm practices for some reason they are only carried out in Phuket.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Old cities are not all like Rome.

Apartment house.

What is it about ancient cities that attracts thousands, millions of people to their gates. Rome is one of those cities, were unlike Athens history and art have been allowed to become one.  Watch over the city at dawn as a curtain is slowly drawn back to reveal a mix of imagination and spirit made one.The Rome I am talking about has nothing to do with people be they citizens or tourists, rather it is the spirit, the physical soul of the place. Unlike many old cities ,the past has not been has not been smothered by the creep of  grey concrete obliterating past gems.

The reason I feel this is that Rome still has that hand made feel about it. The colours of the earth are reflected in the stone, the brickwork, in the detail of its fountains and sculptures. You may dream of one, two thousand years of history without taking a step. This is possible because of the stains of memory recorded on the walls, stones of the city. Every wall has a past, the pox marks of past events, Leonard da Vinci considered the city's walls as works of art. There is no doubt that Rome influenced my own aesthetic vision, I have returned time and time again to history's textures in my creative work.

This is why Antoni Tapies has played such a major role in my imagery, the scored walls, the bullet marks of the Spanish Civil War. This aging of past events while allowing a city to renew itself is what is important in being human. A few years ago on a visit to Barcelona I visited  the Tapie Museum and to my surprise viewed an exhibition of returned postcards from the dead letter office. You could read the feelings, thoughts of all these people from ever corner of the world no matter their location. These undelivered postcards had taken on a life of their own, some had circumnavigated the globe several times in search of a resting place, but the message was kept alive by their very existence.

Romes buildings and sculptures are very much like those postcards, prompting memories of past events both good and bad. They are old enough to present human dreams and aspirations in a way that I don't that another city would be capable of. This eternal quality is something I personally treasure, it is able to transport us beyond the present to the world of dreams.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thai Floods

Have just returned from Thailand and the floods where the situations looks pretty serious, the waters of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya are running at a fair rate of knots. Ferry masters hard pressed to bring their vessels alongside the wharfs. It seems as though someone has left the tap running into a bath, with the overflow raging downstream , hitting the bridge piers with such force as to send jets of water high into the air. Some 75% of the country now underwater, Buddha statues sitting in the middle of lakes, some with water up to their navels looking serenely out across the watery landscape. There does not seem much anyone can do, but pray for the rain to stop. I must record my condolence to the families of those who have lost loved ones [last count some 290 people have died]. the combination of the monsoon, high tides and no doubt blocked drainage canals have all contributed to this tragedy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Money is not what it used to be!

The advent of plastic notes in Australia heralded in the demise of a quant tradition, namely ironing old bank notes to make them appear new. This activity was generally carried out by granmothers and maiden aunts before making small gifts to their offspring. In my youth, I remember carrying out this task for a "professional" gambler. Apparently the look of your money is very important in some circles. I had all but forgotten about the practice, untill the other day an elderly lady in our local shop was recounting how a five dollar note started to melt and dribble onto the floor while she was ironing it. Between plastic credit cards and plastic money is there any doubt why our hard earned money goes up in smoke!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Perugia, and Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds.

"Village outside of Perugia"
Ink & Watercolour  sketch. Peter Kreet
The summer of 1962, I spent in Perugia in an attempt to learn Italian. Like most people living in a foreign country, you tend to talk to your fellow countrymen, that is not a great deal of help. Perugia presented a diverse face to the world, with students from every corner of the globe. The main attraction being the Italian language school were one could study Italian from one month to a year. There were three terms, beginer, intermediate and of course advanced were you would study Dante and other Italian classics. The classes were highly entaining as only Italian was spoken, so considerable mime and acting skills were required  by the instructors. Often with hilarious side effects, as we tried to match the phrases through mime.

Perugia was the seat of the ancient Etruscans before Rome conquered central Italy around 295BC. As such it is one of the oldest towns in the country, still having it's Etruscan town gate. Beside the language school, the town could boast a medical, musical and fine art accademy, so it is very much a student population with all the vibrancy that implies. There were plenty of good cheap eateries and a lively night life. I always follow the advice a wise uncle once gave me "always follow the parish priest for the best and cheapest place in town to eat.

It  was here that I first my future wife, Heather, an Australian girl although at first I thought she was English as she spoke perfect English. She was a very lively girl, very talkive,who seemed to be able to engage anyone in conversion at a moments notice. This was just as well As I'm rather shy with strangers and even when I know people well not  very talkative.

At the time some fellow student friends were coming up from Rome to attend the Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto.A mutural friend of ours was exhibiting some highly political photoes at the Festival. Unfortunately the local Bishop took offence to some of the images as they were fairly anti-catholic. One image I recall showed some nuns lifting their habits to step over a puddle of water in the gutter, while a Dominican priest looked over his shoulder in order to gain a better view of their legs!  These sort of photoes did not go down well and the exhibition was banned. However a Swiss publishing house saw the work and published them in Zuric. My friend went on to make a big name for himself in the fashion industry working for Vouge, Elle and other high flyers maginizes.

To return to Perugia I was discussing my plans to go to Spoteto over lunch, when this very attractive blond girl came up and suggested she would love to go. In addition she assured me she was very good at hitch-hiking. My previous attempts at obtaining lifts, left a lot to be desired, often resulting in few lifts, or finishing up in an awkward situtation with various member of the clergy, who apparently found young men attractive.Heather however was as good as her word and we made the trip in no time at all. At times I was required to hide behind a bush untill a lift was obtained much to the disappointment of  Italian suitors.

Spoleto proved to be rewarding, we saw the premier of "The milk train doesn't stop here any more", many fine art exhibition and open air concerts in the town square. My Scots friend from Rome Gordon arrived with his partner, an American girl who had decided to make some money selling Texan Hot Dogs with a very hot Mexican chilli sauce. Italians, like many people are very conserviative in matters of food and did not take to the hot dogs. For several months back in Rome we had these sausages served up in every imaginable conbination. Luckly she was a very good cook.

This was the first of many such outing Heather and I made that summer out into the Umbrian coumtryside, visiting vineyards and villages on pinics. Sometime we would take our painting gear as much to my delight Heather was interest in art, more of that later.