Lot 1096
  • 1096

Natee Utarit

800,000 - 1,500,000 HKD
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  • Natee Utarit
  • Blue Soldier
  • Signed, titled and dated 09 on the reverse
  • Oil on linen


Private Collection, Europe


This work is in very good overall condition as viewed. Framed.
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Catalogue Note

Throughout his career as a leading Thai contemporary artist, Natee Utarit has inspired much discussion about the noticeable absence of cultural representation within his body of works. Known for embracing the Still Life genre as a platform to cultivate his own ideologies into an artistic dialogue, Natee’s oeuvre is celebrated for adhering to his independent theories and principles that are played out in staged narratives. Still life paintings strived to find the underlining symbolism within everyday items to comment upon mankind’s existence, applying the external world within an existential framework. This divorce from his nationality in the overall art process reflected the artist’s want to breakdown sociocultural labels that may subsequently handicap an individual’s creative expression. Instead he chooses to find a commonality in the spirit of physical objects that would engage with viewers on all levels.

In answer to the psychological relationship between the artist and the individual, Natee explained it as such: “I thought hard about what I should do to undermine the idea that Thai artists can paint only about Buddhism… I found the answer in painting about concerns that are real to me. When I painted simple subjects… I discovered a very satisfying thing during [the] process— that I could create works special to me without trying to make an issue of taboo subjects”. Therefore the early works are reflective of this commitment to painting for painting’s sake, and foregoing with local and traditional subject matters1.

The present piece Blue Soldier is an important work from his oeuvre, for it represents the artist slightly deviating away from the “neutral” climate of still life paintings, and incorporating his own personal histories into the narrative. A defining moment in Thai history was the military coup d’état on September 19, 2006 that brought attention to the country’s politics, and paving the way for governmental infighting that divided the country and lasted for several years. Many contemporary Thai artists found themselves caught in the middle with their artworks “…expressing visually the turmoil [and] hoping to contribute to a better understanding of how and why all the violence came to pass2.

Natee’s paintings from this period may be seen as a collective interrogation of the visual image— a personal diary of his interactions and memories of the political events. Oftentimes the paintings appeared to be “…trying to connect language with visual art…intending that…the figurative subjects [would] stand in for human behaviors, as characters do in literature3. Paintings such as Desert Rat and The Bridge bookend the present work in the artist’s oeuvre, these paintings created before and after Blue Soldier, respectively. They reveal key themes that the artist frequently returned too during this period of his career. Blue Soldier depicts a man in uniform gazing intently into the distance, his posture upright and hands gripped tightly on to the rifle. The figure is reminiscent of a character out of an existential story such as Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot: The soldier expresses the loneliness of those who are unable to attach themselves in an environment where they seem out of place, while simultaneously waiting for the guidance on how to do so. 

Created in 2009, three years after the coup d’état, Blue Soldier may be seen as a commentary towards the governmental disarray that took hold of Thailand. Natee remains faithful to the aesthetics found in still life paintings, with the solitary figure viewed as a material object that carries the weight of military symbolism. However it is not a traditional political painting as seen in Antoine Jean-Gros’ Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole. By subjecting the present soldier to this particular role, acting as both bystander and participant in the ambiguous narrative, Natee forgoes with military propaganda or even political satire. As seen in Desert Rat and The Bridge, the artist often has toy soldiers populate the narratives, inanimate beings analyzing the very environment that inspired such childhood pastimes. Blue Soldier therefore may be perceived as a continuation of this motif, the audience not knowing if it is a real man or plastic toy who questions their role as audience member and critic. 

It is the basis for my assertion that paintings should confirm their reality as objects that convey images. But the complexity of painting throughout its long history always leads us to question the extent to which any given work is grounded in this dual conception of truth: the truth of the painting as image and as physical object,” the artist said. “[Compared with the] rational truth and its truth on the plane of instinct transcending reason”4.

It should be noted that in the series of works from this period, the artist sets the paintings in specific colour codes: red, pink, green, yellow and blue. As per the title of the current work, the colour blue is given precedence in the composition, with the soldier a physical embodiment of the hue. The painting also alludes to Western art history, specifically the colour ultramarine that was favoured by artists like Johannes Vermeer and Yves Klein. Due to the rarity of the original substance which was made from crushed lapis lazuli, as well as later in the 20th century the synthetic version that was widely used by Klein, the colour has achieved notoriety for its vibrant blue colour and costly nature. Within a Thai context the colour blue also holds much significance both culturally and artistically. Blue alludes to the monarchy, and is present in the country’s flag. Coincidently in Buddhism blue also refers to healing. 

Therefore the present painting can be perceived as the artist’s critical analysis of the Thai political situation, using painting as means to highlight and dissect the events at hand. Thus the soldier together with other figures in works inspired by the coup d’état, takes on the role of Natee’s avatar that allows the artist to express his personal opinions on taboo subjects, all within the secure confinements of Still Life aesthetics.

"All the information on the surface of the painting should work together to convince us that what we perceive in front of us has a material reality, except to the extent that what we perceive convinces us of truth of the illusory world created by the painting itself”, the artist said. “When we peer into a painting, it is logic and instinct together which dictate whether we should stop and question the reality in front of us or dive headlong into the inner world of the picture”5.

1 Natee Utarit Survey:1991-2006, Numthong Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand, 2009, pg. 141.

2 http://www.nateeutarit.com/current_exhibition_06.html

3 Refer to 2

4 Refer to 1, pg.120.

5 Natee Utarit, Reasons and Monsters Project, Numthong Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand, 2002, pg. 6