The unmistakable style of artist and designer Phannapast “Yoon” Taychamaythakool has caught the attention of fashion houses, global brands and, more recently, art collectors. Visiting her studio in person allows one to momentarily enter this fascinating, magical world she has created for herself.
The front room reception area at Rainbow of Dream Co Ltd, the studio and workshop of Thai artist and designer Phannapast “Yoon” Taychamaythakool, is eye-popping to say the least. A life-size fuchsia pink lion – made of fibreglass and covered with a finish of faux velvet – sits majestically on a Persian-style rug, flanked by dainty vintage furniture pieces, a collection of antique dolls and strange statuettes, and dozens of beautifully-framed artworks created by Yoon herself.
When the artist glides in to greet me, she’s resplendent in a brightly patterned, high-collar, full-length gown – her own creation – adorned with a thick row of fine black feathers on both the cuffs and hem. Sporting pastel-blue eye shadow, a Cleopatra haircut, several large rings, and earrings she designed herself, she is perfectly at one with the dazzling décor. It’s me, with my boring “normal” clothes, who seems out of place in her world.
Yoon’s sense of style, in both art and fashion, is instantly recognisable, utterly unique and, surprisingly, very commercially successful. Her highly sought-after illustration work brings to mind Victorian era, hand-coloured engravings, full of wide-eyed, cherub-faced characters, animals in human clothing, and scientifically detailed renderings of plants woven into the compositions. At the same time, a dreamlike sense of whimsy – and an obvious Asian influence – elevates her work above mere mimicry. The end result is a fascinating cross-cultural synthesis of classic and contemporary, as filtered through the mind of one highly imaginative individual.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Bangkok, near Samut Sakhon, Yoon – who’s Thai nickname means “manatee” – grew up an only child. Her mother, a dressmaker, employed a small production team that included an artistically inclined nephew. “He taught me to draw when I was four,” recalls Yoon, adding that her father, who also helped in the dress business, was a big nature lover. “I grew up with many animals and plants.”
Her love of all things vintage, meanwhile, seems to stem from visits to Grandma’s house – “She had lots of porcelain from China” – while her knowledge of Western art and artists (she cites Paul Gaugin, Frida Kahlo, and Sandro Botticelli among her favourites) didn’t come about until she took art history classes at university. Interestingly, she opted to study fashion, not fine art, and in 2010 graduated with a B.A. in fashion design from Chulalongkorn University.
Her first job was with successful Thai fashion brand Kloset, and during her five-years there she went from assistant designer to creative director. It was also during this period that she struck up an online friendship with Alessandro Michele, the creative director at Gucci.
“I saw his 2016 collection on YouTube,” she explains. “It was his first collection. I loved it, but some people didn’t and made unpleasant comments. So, I drew for him pictures of my character wearing his dresses.” Alessandro liked what he saw, and since that time has employed Yoon to work on a number of special projects for the brand (including, in 2018, the prestigious Gucci Artwall, New York).
Yoon’s association with Gucci certainly got her noticed, and from 2017 onwards her CV is peppered with artwork commissions from iconic local brands – The Peninsula Bangkok, Jim Thompson, Siam Piwat Group, King Power, etc. – as well as international heavyweights such as Bang and Olufsen, Nescafé, Nike, Sulwhasoo, and Instagram. But ultimately, her commercial projects are, as with many artists, the financial cushion that allows her to pursue her true artistic aspirations.
“My own art needs money to support it, and that comes from commercial art. It’s that simple,” admits the now 33-year-old, expressing her wish to one day “stand on my own” as a fine artist. Reaching this goal might not actually be that far off, judging by the overwhelmingly positive reception her most recent exhibition, Venus in the Shell, received when it was unveiled back in January at River City Bangkok’s RCB Galleria.
For those who missed it, a few remaining artworks are still on display (until the end of April) in a different room at River City. However, what made the original exhibition so unforgettable was the immersive, theatrical experience created by the dramatic lighting, the extravagant wall and floor designs, and the 50+ elaborate artworks on display. In the first room alone, one wall displayed 26 elegantly framed illustrations of characters in fighting poses forming the letters of the English alphabet, while another wall was taken up by Yoon’s fanciful interpretations of the 12 signs of the zodiac. Upon closer inspection I noticed that under the artist’s wonderfully calligraphic longhand signature, all these illustrations were dated – and that she literally completed one artwork per day during the height of the 2020 lockdown period.
“It’s not so common anymore for people to sign the work and also put the date. It’s a very old-fashioned style, but I love to do it like that,” she giggles, adding that completing one piece daily was something of a personal challenge she set for herself during last year’s enforced stay-at-home period.
The second room of her exhibit was even more mind-bending, with more lavishly illustrated works, a horse-headed spaceship suspended from the ceiling, and a jaw-dropping, blue-toned wall mosaic, entitled ‘Moonlight Dive’, constructed from tiny pieces of recycled glass.
“I worked with Cotto, the big glass tile company,” she says. “Everything is handmade, and it took about 1,500 hours to complete.”
From here, a twisting, serpentine dragon design on the floor led visitors ultimately to the final room, where they were met with – amongst other things – a series of wall-mounted artworks made using lenticular printing (printed images that change when viewed from different angles) to depict costumed people and the Chinese mythical creatures hiding inside them. Of course, the showstopper for me here was the enormous, bright orange rattan sculpture of a lobster, vertically affixed to the black support beam.
“I love rattan furniture,” confesses Yoon. “I’d always see those peacock-style chairs, but I never saw rattan in other shapes or used in other creative ways. A rattan artist created [the lobster] based on my drawings. The collaboration took about half a year. He said it was very hard, but he loved doing it.”
For the show’s other sculpted pieces, Yoon made hand-drawn sketches – showing the front, back, and sides – which were brought to life by a production team she regularly works with. “They know what I like. I tell them about my mood and tone, and they interpret it.” As the subject of interpretation arises, I ask Yoon about the deeper meanings behind her works.
“Every time I do an exhibition it’s like my own diary,” she says. “So, everything in my exhibition is about myself. The Venus in my show is not the goddess. I’m using Venus as a symbol of the good and bad in us all.”
There’s also some sexually charged imagery at play – including a pussycat, with giant flower blossoms for genitals, attempting to lick itself – which leads me to ask if questions of sexuality and gender identity are important themes as well.
“Yes, it’s important,” she nods. “It’s like a hidden message in my work.”
Switching to Thai, Yoon goes on to explain that as a slightly introverted kid, who found explaining things to others kind of hard, art became a comfort zone where she felt free, and a “voice” she could use to speak to others. Since then, art has always played a huge role in her life. She says that whether happy or sad, she will always draw.
These days, my suspicion is that Yoon must be leaning towards happy, as she earlier shared with me the news that her Venus in The Shell show will soon be travelling to China, where it will be exhibited in Chongqing at The Riviera Galaxy gallery.
This story was first published in the April 2021 issue of Prestige Thailand.
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