Lot 1076
  • 1076

Natee Utarit

550,000 - 780,000 HKD
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  • Natee Utarit
  • Still Life of Death and Honor
  • Signed and dated 12 on the reverse
  • Oil on linen


The work is in overall good condition. The paint layer impastos are healthy and the canvas is taut. Under ultraviolet light inspection there are no signs of retouching. Framed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

It can be said that contemporary art within Thailand is an interesting pairing of local mythologies and Western ideologies. As a country that holds the sole recognition of being the only one within the region that retained their independence from foreign powers, Thailand is in the unique position of embracing their nationalistic pride, while consequently holding onto former glories. It is through artistic expression that allows people to reexamine existing paradigms, challenging the status quo, and hopefully provide a new platform that enriches the future without holding on too strong to the past.

Natee Utarit is one artist whose body of works tightrope walks between provocation and universal understanding, for the paintings reference Western art history and literature to discuss inherent Thai related matters. However when taken on a larger scale can be comprehended by an international public. He is highly respected as being one of the most well-known Thai artists outside of the country. Many of the paintings play with innuendos, especially the works created from 2008 and onwards. This period is notable for it was when Thailand experienced governmental turmoil which would have a permanent impact on the country’s residents. Natee’s paintings from 2008 onwards all share the commonality that they are critiques about the country and its political future.

The present painting entitled Still Life of Death and Honor continues to play with double entendres, choosing some items over others to articulately convey the hidden meanings that the artist wishes to share with the audience. Natee’s oeuvre is largely inspired by the Nature Morte art genre that uses everyday objects to touch upon greater discussions, notably human being’s existentialist longing for a deeper meaning in their lives. As per Natee’s favored motifs and aesthetics, he includes in the present narrative a human skull and discarded soldier’s jacket. Resting atop the skull and vaguely reminiscent of a golden crown is a bemused snail looking regally upon its environment.

Natee has succinctly incorporated humor into the gravitas of the given painting, with the snail’s nonchalant attitude to the surroundings a light tone in a work that otherwise has deeper meanings. The color of the soldier’s jacket is deliberate, for in Thailand’s political upheavals the two factions vying for power were divided up into the Red and Yellow parties respectively. Therefore the abandoned costume, lying half-heartedly upon the chest of drawers and sans owner, is demonstrative of the artist’s cynicism for the future of Thailand’s political stability.

The presence of the skull brings additional weight to the situation. The painting references Shakespeare and his famous character Hamlet whose soliloquy with a skull was centered on his mortality, notably how that skull was once a man of flesh and blood like him:

“To be, or not to be--that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--

No more--and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--

To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life”.1

Therefore with Natee’s inclusion of the skull into the present painting all relates to this scene from classical literature. It can be said that art and literature are intertwined, both having influences upon each other. Natee has also alluded to Western literature in past works, appropriating classic archetypes and foreign symbols into the compositions of the paintings. The title of the present piece is also grounded in classical literature, calling forth similarities with novels by Leo Tolstoy and Victor Hugo, both men impassioned by their own country’s political upheavals.

Due to the cultural sensitivity of politics in Thailand, it is no surprise that Natee has chosen to represent the situation with choice imagery and colors that underline the complex meanings of each artwork. The application of light and shadows in Still Life of Death and Honor, as well as the usage of Western motifs is a revealing look into Natee’s skillful appropriation of European art history. The artist is known to embrace humor within the paintings, a light touch that releases the works slightly from the weight of the Nature Morte art genre. The snail in the present work is a perfect example of this.

Life may be serious with history altering all the time, but there are moments of repose in an ordinary life providing human beings with a hopeful future. The skull suggests mortality however the jacket represents new beginnings and times of change. In Still Life of Death and Honor Natee has combined his Thai nationality with European aesthetics. The result of this creative marriage is his personal experiences adapted into Western narratives, thereby communicating his identity and ideology in a universally understood context. Within the present work it can be construed that the anonymous soldier has abandoned their jacket for a brighter future.

 1 Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, The Folger Shakespeare Library, New York, 2012.