Known for his colourful artworks that combine painting and sculpture, Mit Jai Inn's latest series brings hope and optimism, immersing us in a world of fun, fluorescent hues and political rebellion as we emerge from a pandemic. The Thai artist's work is currently on show at Ikon in Birmingham, his first-ever major solo exhibition in Europe.
A leading figure of contemporary art in Thailand, Mit's latest show, Dreamworld, features recent and new works made for Ikon which embody his vision of art "as a utopian dream within everyday life" and "collective hopes for a brighter future". For instance, in Wall Works, a series that has been ongoing since the mid-1980s, Mit uses unstretched rectangular canvases, painted on both sides with thick lines and bold patches of paint. While the random slits of Patch Works, which began in 1999, break away from the clean lines and logic of minimalist painting. There's also Dream Works, another project that's been ongoing since the late '90s where fluorescent colours and frayed edges hope to "express the excitement and anxiety felt by people around the world on the eve of the new millennium and since".
Elsewhere in Scrolls, Mit transforms a traditional format of Eastern painting into rollable sculptures, and in Pools, he makes mounds of paint bathed in solvents to evoke the climate of his outdoor studio in Chiang Mai, where high levels of humidity keep his paints sticky and viscous.
A republican and activist, Mit's works often convey his resistance to the Thai monarchy and military rule. Since 2020, popular protests in Thailand have called for political reform and for King Maha Vajiralongkorn to step down. Though punishable by imprisonment, thousands of people, including Mit, continue to campaign at their own risk, galvanised by the possibility of change. At times, colours in Mit's works such as red, blue, yellow and silver reference Thai politics and his indigenous Yong heritage. Their defiance of traditional formats of painting also conveys his rebellious spirit.
For Mit, painting is both intensely physical and deeply meditative. "When I paint, it's not only with my eyes but with all of my senses: touch, smell, movement. The whole entity," he explains. Using his hands, fingers and, occasionally, a palette knife, he dabs, slaps and pulls colours across the canvas, blending them intuitively. The thick consistency of his paints is derived from a mixture of old oil paint, gypsum powder, colour pigments and acrylic paints, loosened with linseed oil. Reflective minerals increase the dazzling effect of their combined colours and give them their "magic" glow.
Interestingly, Mit has often given his works away, for members of the public to keep, and for other artists to incorporate into their own projects. It's through these generous gestures that we learn of Mit's belief in his artworks as gifts, whose meaning lies in the hands of their owners, hosts and viewers. But this approach has resulted in his relative lack of recognition in the art world, outside of Thailand, until now.
Dreamworld at Ikon, Birmingham, runs until 21 November 2021 and is accompanied by a comprehensive monograph on Mit's life and work, published by Ikon and ArtAsiaPacific Foundation. It will include full-colour documentation of the exhibition and key works, with texts by Melanie Pocock, Ikon Curator; art historian Simon Soon; critic and curator Brian Curtin; plus an interview with the artist by Gridthiya Gaweewong, Artistic Director, The Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok.