Thép Thavonsouk’s sight of the world

L1180634 (Large)Brussels, Begramoff Gallery. The walls are decorated with stunning pictures in light orange, red and mystical dark colors. And in between there is Thép Thavonsouk, the Laotian-Canadian artists, dressed in a light silk dress and glad to greet all the visitors. I am also invited to his art opening in an arty quarter of the Belgian capital.L1180635 (Large) L1180639 (Large)

It is the first time Thép introduces his paintings to a Belgian, and to an European, audience. Most visitors here have cosmopolitan backgrounds, lived all over the world, worked at different places. Also Guy de Vleeschouwer, the gallery owner. Some time ago he met Thép in his gallery house in Luang Prabang in the lush northern part of Laos and was fascinated by his art. He invited him and his paintings to Brussels and everything started.L1180645 (Large)

Talking with Thép is a pleasure for itself. He looks to his picture in a deep purple color and with the imagination of a lonely monk in it. And then he speaks: About his intention to paint, about the world and his longing to go back once in a while to his birth place Laos – despite of living for decades in Canada. To pay respect to his father and his mother, whose ashes are buried in the capital Vientiane. “I have to go there every year to find my inner peace.”

Then he finally refers to that one purple painting.

“In my opinion purple is a color of spirituality. I like to share it with my audience. It is time to look into ourselves and reach a sense of peace. There is so much chaos in the world. I just want to share a sense of humanity. There is so much sadness around, so many things which are going against my human being. I like to see people happy but lately I saw the opposite. There is now so much uncertainty in the world. As an artist I like to say that it is not bad to go on, just to go on. I hope when people see my art they can feel spirituality and peace and the positive way of living their lives.

I don’t want to see people living in a negative way. Light, one of the focus of my paintings, means to me happiness. This is my small way of saying that I hope there is peace and tranquillity wherever you are.”

Thép Thavonsouk’s plans for the future are easy to handle. “I like to enjoy every minute of what we have and keep on going painting 7 days a week.” The 68 years old artist adds that he is a passionate tennis player. His home for the last 48 years is Calgary in Canada. “It is there where I have my friends who became my family and where my only fight is that one at the tennis court”, he ends, smiling.

Thep Thavonsouk at gallery Begramoff till October 23, 2015.L1180644 (Large)L1180630 (Large)

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Thép Thavonsouk, Painter, Luang Prabang

DSCF6967 (Large)„My world is a world of colors and inspiration.“

Thép Thavonsouk

As a young boy of four Thép Thavonsouk began drawing and sketching. In the early 1950’s his father travelled frequently to Paris. He would return to Laos with presents for his young son. One of the presents was a box of watercolour paints. Thép would twist open the tubes of paint and smell them. To this day he still recalls that miraculous moment when his father watched him begin painting with brilliant colours for the first time. The paint box, a gift from his father, was a memory box like “La Madeleine” was for Marcel Proust in “Remembrance of Things Past” (“A la recherche du temps perdu”).bathers-ii

In the early 1960s at the Lycée de Vientiane in Laos, the French artist and teacher Marc Leguay took Thép under his wing and introduced him to live drawing. Leguay also introduced him to the French impressionists Monet, Cézanne, Pissaro and the Spanish Picasso, Dali and Miro.buttlery-circle-of-friends

Thép graduated with a Baccalauéat and was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study art and international relations at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. His post graduate studies in Chinese painting were under the Taiwanese Masters Cheng Ming-Shien, Tien Manh-Shih, Li Pei and under Masayuki Miyata in Tokyo. At the end of the 1970’s, Thép quit his jobs as a French conversation teacher at the University of Lethbridge and English as a second language teacher in a high school. He dreamt of being a full time artist and playing his flute by the ocean. He decided to leave everything behind and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. This is the birth of his artistic soul.saffron-robes-g (Large)

His apartment in Hawaii also served as his studio. He was free to paint and create at all hours, experimenting with several mediums, techniques and styles, searching for new ideas to incorporate into his art. Thép would wake up at two in the morning to paint before going to give tennis lessons at 7 am. His first Hawaiian exhibition was with a group of Honolulu painters who, on weekends, would come from all corners of the island to hang their paintings on barbed wire at the Honolulo Zoo fence for tourists to view and buy.monkswalking

“To be an artist is to be free to create without the heavy burden of fortune or fame.”

Thép Thavonsouk

His metamorphosis into a free artist encapsulated in a realistic watercolour painting of 40 butterflies with the red sun blazing in the background. It was titled “Destinés à un vol libre”. The sense of freedom led the artist to discover and paint Hawaiian fauna and flora, koi fish and the ocean waves for six years.june-rain-eThép went to Canada in the 1980s where he worked for a federal government agency helping immigrants from many countries to learn English. Having discovered butterflies free flight in Hawaii, Thép began to express the themes of solitude and peace in his work. He began to examine his soul and the world around him. He created art with the deep attachment to the earth and its seasons – the light, the water, the clouds, the mist and fog and the monsoon rain. Images of loneliness and strength made their appearance in Thép´s art in the late 1980s. Thép was drawn to his birthplace Laos. He travelled back to visit his mother. The monsoon rain, the fog and the mist from the Mekong River and the flow of monks´ robes became themes of his paintings.Saffron-Robes-in-Purple-Sky-1 (Large)

“My feelings are leaning more and more toward the elements. My work is not sentimental. I do not want my work to depict something that tells the whole story or speaks to a well-defined narrative.” Thép´s saffron robes series shine in the light of a field of orange.

Thép Thavonsouk with a visitor at his gallery in Luang Prabang.

Thép Thavonsouk with a visitor at his gallery in Luang Prabang.

Today his art speaks to modernity and tradition with equal dedication. It shows a deep understanding of both Asian and Western history and visual cultures. He found a way to incorporate these into his work.

Thép´s art has been collected by corporations and individuals in 5 continents and is shown in permanent collections at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada and the Singapore Museum in Singapore.nocturne-with-sunset-32

“Even though I have had many creative and international opportunities open to me, I knew deep inside these art and painting were my passions. It is a good thing I let my passions prevail, as the emotion, intensity and serenity of my work have blessed everyone who has experienced and attained one of the wonderful creations.”saffron-robes-d

My paintings are inspired by light and shadow.
I am moved by striking moods in the clouds,
rain and mist as well as
a flow of monks’ saffron robes.

There is a palpable hush of wonder with
no fixed perspective in my works.
My paintings grow out of silence;
a dreamlike morphology suggesting tranquility and
a sense of spirituality as figures dissolve
into landscape.

The fleeting passage of their quiet moments seen
on my canvas and rice paper shines the light
on the immensity of our universe and
the insignificance of human beings.

Thép Thavonsouknocturne-xii june-rain-j

Exhibitions of Thép Thavonsouk in 2015 are in September in Brussels, in October in The Netherlands, in November in Vientiane/Laos and in December in Paris.

Photos: Enric Boixadós (2)