Dr. Jan Meyer, at right, is shown withthe ThaiNational Artist Thawan Dachanee
Dr. Jan Meyer, at right, is shown withthe ThaiNational Artist Thawan Dachanee
Earlier in this diary I wrote about the great side trip we had on our recent visit to Thailand when we went to a remote city near the Myanmar border. Another thing that we enjoyed while there was an unexpected meeting with one of Thailand's foremost National Artists.

Actually, our first destination was the Wat Rong Khun. This was an absolutely stunning Buddhist Wat, or temple, created by another of Thailand's well-known artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat. It is an ambitious project, which when finished will have five structures, all as imposing and impressive as the first one. It is unusual mostly because it is all white; we were told it is the only all-white temple that exists.

While there, I happened to read an article from Time magazine, which was in a frame on a wall inside the information office. The subject was two very famous artists of Thailand with "two very compelling but different visions." Mr. Chalermchai's buildings are all white, while the other artist, Thawan Dachanee, works in black and red. Both explained their preferred colors in relationship to their self-described philosophies of life: Mr. Chalermchai is a devout Buddhist, and according to Time, Mr. Thawan is not. The Nation newspaper online described him as using "the styles of traditional Buddhist art to explore the darkness lurking within humanity."

In the information office at the Wat Rong Khun, there were many examples of Mr. Chalermchai's art, which could be purchased by admirers. Obviously, many of these were small, but there were also a few very large ones. On the other hand, Mr. Thawan's paintings are huge, and predominantly black with red and some white. They're obviously too big for easy transport (also out of my budget), so the only way to purchase a sample of his paintings was to buy a t-shirt.

When reading the article from Time, it pointed out that curiously enough, both of these renowned artists live in Chiang Mai, in fact not far from each other. And it went on to describe the Black House, home of Mr. Thawan, indicating that it too is open to the public. So, of course, I was now curious and asked our friend if it was close enough that we could stop there before we had to get to the airport for departure. It was and we did.

Mr. Thawan's compound is as different from Mr. Chalermchai's as the magazine article had described. It consists of 35 houses, and while each one was not completely black, that was certainly the predominant color. In fact, the only other hue in the architecture was wood; any colors other than that came from the furnishings. Because all the contents seemed to be from nature, it was mostly a one-color palette, and that was black.

When we arrived at Mr. Thawan's, we entered what was a large building. We were somewhat in awe at several things including a table about 50 feet long, with benches on the side and chairs at each end fashioned from wood and apparently horns from longhorn cattle or something similar. Seated at the far end, appearing as if sitting on a very unique throne, was an older gentleman with long white hair and beard. He beckoned us to him, as if summoning his subjects. He invited us to sit down, which we did, and he introduced himself as the artist!

The other artist, Mr. Chalermchai, is among other things a very popular Thai television comedian. While Mr. Thawan was not described as such, I concluded that he is also a very funny guy! I was curious about the comparisons made in the Time magazine article, so I told him I had read it, and asked if he had any comments about it. He responded immediately: "No. I am a big shit, and the other guy is just a medium shit." He went on to tell us that when he was in the U.S. recently, he met Obama who asked him if he had a business card. His reported response: "I am a big shit so I don't need business cards. Only little shits and medium shits need business cards."

He sent his aide to open up two other buildings so he could show us some of his "junk." He said that each of the 35 houses in the compound is filled with junk, each with a theme. In each one, when we entered he went straight to the throne-like chair in that one and held court, describing the contents and where they had come from. In the reptile house, the rugs on the floor were actually crocodile (or alligator?) skins, so bumpy and hard on the backs that I had to walk only on the legs. There were two support columns stretching to the ceiling that were covered on all sides, top to bottom, with sharks' teeth. There were two bags made out of snake skins, and several other snake skins around the room and all kinds of other reptilian stuff.

In the other house we visited, almost everything was from the U.S. Needless to say, there were a lot of longhorns there too, along with a lot of other "junk," including some from New Zealand and Australia. I asked if, given environmental concerns and protection of certain species, he had ever had trouble either getting his items out of or into a country. He said, "No, if you have money you can buy and do anything." And he does have money: I heard elsewhere that his paintings sell for a minimum B20 million, or about US$700,000.

When he was finished talking with us, he simply walked away. I felt a little in awe of having had the experience of meeting and talking with him, which was confirmed when other friends back in Bangkok found out about it. Evidently he doesn't give personal audiences to a lot of people. I'm just really happy I did not ask for his card. Or try to give him mine!