Jiab Prachakul has been shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award 2020 alongside Michael Youds and Sergey Svetlakov. Night Talk, Prachakul’s portrait of her close friends, Jeonga Choi, a designer from Korea, and Makoto Sakamoto, a music composer from Japan, are pictured in a Berlin bar on an autumn evening.
A self taught artist, Prachakul was born in in 1979 in a small town in northeast Thailand. In 2006, Prachakul relocated to London where she had the ‘instant realisation’ that she wanted to be an artist after viewing a David Hockney retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. After moving to Berlin in 2008 she began selling her pictures at a local flea market and set up an online fashion brand, designing merchandise based on her artworks, which she continues to run from her current home in Lyon.
Here, Prachakul tells WIA about her creative life and inspiration.
WIA: What are you doing today?
Jiab Prachakul: I did some admin work in the morning and work on my current painting in progress.
After lunch I did a bit of social media and then took a power nap like 25 mins. I often do that when I need to reset my mind and relax my body. It’s very nice as the last 5 minutes I often get into a sort of trance when I withdraw from a present to a sort of dream-like vision. It’s really peaceful.
After the nap I got to be more fresh and focused and I continued working on the painting until 6 pm then I did a yoga session for 1-2 hours.
My other days are pretty much like this too, since before the quarantine too actually. When I don’t have any admin work to do I usually paint, nap and do yoga.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
JP: I’m a contemporary figurative artist, so often I begin the thinking process where I summon all my research interests together and try to realise what I want to do. What matters for me and could be shared to others.
After the thinking process I will go on finding subjects, producing references. I work a lot with different sitters so a conversation between me and each sitter helps a lot to get to know each other and share our feelings, interests. So the sort of interview conversations I have with my sitters are really important for my creative process.
Then comes the part where I paint and realise the visual of the paintings. Everything I mention above then combines into a body of my work and subject matters.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
JP: Physically in my studio. Inspirationally anywhere !
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
JP: I think it’s a painting I’m working on at the moment. It’s a portrait of my favorite director from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
In the past two years I’ve been influenced very much by the artworks of Kerry James Marshall. His work made me question myself about my identity as Thai artist. Who am I? What is my identity? Who represents my identity as an artist? Apichatpong totally popped in my head.
He was a really iconic way back when I was a film student and his body of works, the honesty and simplicity in his films touched me deeply.
I contacted him last year quite anonymously to paint his portrait and he accepted. We met in Lyon for lunch and the interaction was really lovely and inspiring as if we knew each other for a long time. He’s really a humble soul and so inspiring.
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
JP: The retrospective exhibition of David Hockney at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2007.
I was in my gap year and had just left my job at a production house company in Bangkok. I moved to London to find out about myself, if I could be something or find some hidden potential inside me and do something about it.
When I was at the exhibition I was totally blown by Hockney’s body of works the exhibition introduced.
There I saw his very first drawing and sketches and I thought ‘ Oh! I did something like that too when I was younger…’ then from that point of the exhibition I saw more and more amazing works, his life story, his passion in art and his works that step far beyond where he started and I remember I had a sudden realisation I wanted to become an artist.
I always liked to draw as a child. My brother is really good at drawing too. He used to teach me how to draw and sketch. So after the exhibition I realised I have a good seed of this talent, perhaps I should now plant and nurture it. And that was twelve years ago.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
JP: A portrait of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. A director from Thailand, he’s known for his films Tropical Malady and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
JP: My soundtrack has been an album called Reflection by Makoto my friend and sitter in my painting Night Talk.
I also work in a co-working space with Guillaume, my fiance. We like to listen to fip radio. They pass a really great playlist especially the one when they were on a strike !
Then I have my own playlist that I love like Lionel Hampton, Gilberto Gil and a compilation of soundtracks from Wong Kar Wai’s movie.
I like to work in a quiet atmosphere too, just listening to the surroundings.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
JP: Identity especially of people with mixed identity background. People of this time, this generation.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
JP: I want my audience to notice my works as a movie. what they appreciate in the work will come back again in the next ones, it will be different stories, different subject matters but it’s created by the same artist and that my works allows people to get in a certain state of mind where they can reflect about their own lived reality.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
JP: I work in both oil and acrylic.
I like acrylic as it is fast drying feature and that it’s non toxic. With acrylic I have to work quickly and think less. Which I think I wouldn’t be able to do if I hadn’t worked a lot with oil before.
I don’t like to add much of other mediums when I work so the contra of acrylic is the body of the color is quite flat and plastic-like. It doesn’t give volume and doesn’t reflect lights. But the pro is that it allows you to work in as many layers as you like without a visible brush history/thickness as oil does. For Night Talk I worked around three to four layers on the painting and it still looks flat and in united layers. I feel really free when I use acrylic.
[Gallery of progress of Night Talk painting]
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
JP: My eye glasses.
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
JP: People, films, music and in the past two years I’ve been influenced very much by a few African artists, which are Kerry James Marshall, Barkley L. Hendricks, Amy Sherald, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Jordan Casteel and Toyin Ojih Odutola. The images of their works are really strong and the messages about identity are absolutely bold.
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
JP: I grew up closely with my older brother. Our Mom passed away when we were young. So working on female-ish sitters connects me back to my feminine part, while it brings me back to a brotherhood sort of feeling with a male-ish sitters.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
JP: I like the National Portrait Gallery for portrait exhibition. I love Tate Modern for modern art in general and the space aesthetic.
In Berlin I like Martin Gropius, The Boros Collection, Julia Stoschek Collection where I discovered Wu Tsang & Boychild for the first time five years ago.
In Paris we always check Galerie Daniel Templon what’s on. My fiance introduced this gallery to me and I love it.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
JP: At the moment I really wish I have the Portrait of a Curator (In Memory of Beryl Wright) by Kerry James Marshall. Obviously it’s so wonderful! I saw it for the first time in Venice Biennale on the cover of Mousse magazine and I fell in love directly.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
JP: Difficult question! I think it would be Ron Mueck. His subject matters influenced me greatly on the way I look at my sitters. The idea that my work and his works could meet somehow is terrific!
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
JP: I think Luc Tuyman could be more heard of and the African artist movement like Kerry James Marshall, Barkley L. Hendricks, Amy Sherald, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Jordan Casteel and Toyin Ojih Odutola.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour?
To find out more about Jiab Prachakul and her portrait subjects:
Jiab Prachakul website
Social media: IG : jiab prachakul
Photographer: Guillaume Bouzige Instagram here
Sitter Sonia Spampinato portrait
Sonia Spampinato, Treasure Hunter, The Golden Compass, here.
Sitters, Night Talk:
Jeonga Choi, designer here.
Makoto Sakamoto, composer here.