Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The poster painters of Phuket

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Luddite; an analog man trapped in a digital world. Beginning in high school I shunned computers, equating their regular use with brain cancer, obesity and nerdhood. But as time went by, I slowly took up the mantle of digital technology. Now my life sucks more than ever! I'm a laptop lackey, a whore to the hard drive, and the megapixel is my master.

So when I stumbled across these guys in the garage of a Phuket row house my jaw dropped, my heart skipped a beat and I felt a touch of the old, pre-digital me come alive again. Brethren of the brush, not the mouse pad!

Until the mid-1990's, when computer technology really began to come into its own, most movie billboards (also called "hoardings") in Thailand were painted by hand. Artisans like Somboon and Phairoj shown here were employed by the theaters to create these art works, deftly applying a guild-age trade to the joys of film. In Bangkok, hand painted movie billboards would vie for space along the busiest stretches of road, adding a galaxy of color to an otherwise drab concrete labyrinth.

Somboon applies text to an nearly complete billboard. Notice that he uses a computer generated poster as a guide for his painting.

Phairoj adds shadowing to the letters for the movie "Kru Ban Nok" (Country Teacher)

Nowadays, this once prolific art form is nearly extinct in Thailand. Giant printers costing millions of baht have replaced the artist's hand. Be that as it may, it was a genuine treat to meet these guys. Truly the last of a dying breed. If you're wondering, Somboon and Phairoj work for the Coliseum-Paradise Cineplex in Phuket town. Coliseum - which I believe is based in Hat Yai - has movie distribution jurisdiction over southern Thailand. The owner of Paradise, a Mr. Pornphiman, has been in the film exhibition business for decades, once owning some of the island's now-defunct stand-alone movie theaters. Fortunately, Mr. Pornphiman, out of his own good will, or his eye for the arts, has kept the pair of painters employed for the past 20 years, bucking the trend towards digital.

After these guys retire, there won't be much left of this art form in Thailand.

Somboon stands beside his latest co-creation. It took them two days to complete.

Kru Ban Nok: Ban Nonghi Yai, a remake of a 1978 film of the same name (by the same director) opens in theaters across Thailand tomorrow. You can read about the movie at the Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal. This one-of-a-kind billboard, however, can only be seen on a Phuket street side.


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