Saturday, August 18, 2007

Natural Pigments

Process is an important part of artmaking for any artist. I often find I gain more enjoyment from sourcing, gathering and preparing materials, than I do from actually creating works. An artist who really interests me in terms of his process is Yanawit Kungchaethong.

Yanawit, who currently teaches at Silpakorn University in Bangkok, trained as a printmaker but grew concerned about the chemcials which prevail in printmaking studios and began investigating ways of making coloured pigments from a wide variety of plant species (among them pandanus, mangosteen and kum-ngo) found in Thailand. This painting above was produced from pigments derived from mango, chrysanthenum and butterfly pea plants.

A few months ago I had a chance to hear him speak about his research into plants and pigments at a talk he gave at Chiang Mai University as part of The Mekong Art and Culture Project.

What I found particularly interesting about his work was that Yanawit's father is a horticulturalist who grows plants for use in herbal medicine on the family's property at Petchaburi. Through his research into pigments, Yanawit has been able to inherit family knowledge of local resources that perhaps would otherwise have been lost. I was also interested to hear that he found the same plant produces different hues depending on the season in which it is harvested, which is what I have found when working with natural fibres. Working directly from the natural environment, seasonal cycles have a direct effect on what materials are available and how they appear and can be used.

Anyway, I found these works refreshing and have found a kum ngo tree growing near my office. My husband told me that his mother and grandmother used to squeeze the red berries to make lipstick and nail colour. I snuck out of my office one day recently to experiment with the kum ngo tree and had to get around the whole day looking and feeling ridiculous with bright reddish-orange lips that didn't wear off until much later that day.

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