Kraisak Chirachaisakul and his two sons are fine-art printmakers whose Bangkok home does triple duty as their studio and gallery space as well.
Kraisak is well-known in the field, winning prizes around the world for his highly detailed works. His sons Kit and Wal are emerging printmaking talents in their own right, while his youngest son Kit runs Kalwit Studio & Gallery in the Ploenchit neighbourhood.
While much of Kraisak’s work has a nostalgic feel – he’s done a well-received series on King Rama IX and one on his childhood memories – Wal’s work focuses on exposing truth in society. His often confrontational pieces address politics, gender, societal and financial inequality in Thailand and around the world. The youngest son’s work is the most introspective. Kit’s first series focused on self-portraits and soul-searching while his latest pieces, inspired by his girlfriend, take an empathetic look at femininity.
Late last year, the three shared their first exhibition, a curated collection of their mezzotint work at river City Bangkok. The show, M3zzotint, showcased their mastery of a century-old intaglio printmaking technique in which copper plates are etched and roughened to create incredible tonal effects. The show received enough acclaim that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, stopped by to meet the family and bought two pieces, one from each of the sons.
All three printmakers studied at the prestigious Silpakorn University. But Kraisak didn’t pursue art after leaving school, instead starting a toy business to support his young family. He didn’t become a professional artist until 2010 – 25 years after leaving school. Despite the hiatus, he’s been prolific in the last decade, creating more than 300 plates and over 1,000 print editions. He has garnered solo shows in Thailand and south Korea and won prizes in Taiwan, Canada and Japan. Wal says of his dad: “I never saw him do formal artwork when we were kids, but I knew he could draw well and fast."
“We were always drawing, but Wal and I never thought art could be a career," adds Kit.
Kraisak first noticed Kit’s aptitude for etching when he completed a workshop and showed his dad what he’d created. Amazed, Kraisak proclaimed Kit’s natural talent unmatched and ordered a press for their home. It was a turning point for the family of artists. After the press arrived, Kraisak re-embraced his lost passion and made an exit from the toy business. Wal was an art student at the time but printmaking wasn’t his focus. “I hated printmaking because of the scientific process and the chemicals. But once we had the press, I realised I could do it very well when I could concentrate quietly, in my own space." Kraisak explains that printmaking is unlike other visual art mediums. “There’s some aspect to it that’s like gambling. You make your etching, add colour and are often unsure what will happen when you lift the press."
These days, Kraisak spends the most time at the metal plate press. His sons say he sometimes clocks 20 hours a day in the studio. They each have corners of the house where they draw their plates – a process that can take up to several months before a single print is made.
The three have grown to inspire and influence each other’s work, but at Silpakorn, Kit found it intimidating to be in the shadow of his well-known dad and brother. “The teachers expected so much and compared my work to my family members. They told me I should do better. in some ways I have and in some I haven’t."
Kit calls time management his best artistic asset. Since the youngest Chirachaisakul also teaches drums and runs the gallery, he needs to be disciplined. He awakes at 6am to create art for three or four hours before moving on to other work. Kraisak and Wal admit to having a more chaotic creative process.
Wal says: “I’m different from Kit. I cannot control my time. Time controls me."
But both sons defer to their father in one aspect. “When dad offers advice about techniques, we listen. He has high standards and knows the academic side of printmaking. But when it comes to ideas and inspiration, our ideas will always diverge," says Wal.
In recent years, Kraisak has begun to ask his sons for advice about his work, showing his growing respect for them as artists and equals.
Though M3zzotint was a great success, the three don’t see themselves showing together again soon. Instead each plans to further develop his talents and vision before another potential collaboration.
Kraisak is focused on oil painting at the moment – he’s done a series that he hopes will be the basis for his next solo show – while Wal searches for fresh inspiration. Kit hopes to secure his first solo exhibition soon. Hopefully, these three will never stray too far from each other. After all, home is where the art is.