Bangkok, Wat Pho

February 26, 2013

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A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook; graphite pencil.

This was my second visit in a week to Wat Pho, after a previous one doing the short classic tourist thing parading around the Reclining Buddha. But today, with a few hours to spare before meeting up with sketching colleagues, I got round the entire complex this time, as far north as the temple massage centre and down the east side where these small stupas are. I didn’t have a camera with me on this occasion to remind me of the vivid colour scheme, but I liked the verticals in this courtyard of stupas, a relatively peaceful place away from the main Reclining Buddha temple, visible here in the background.

I did this in one go between around 2.20pm and 3.40pm on recollection, starting with the (too squat) one at far left then including the variations-on-a-theme to the right. Ditto to the left, but ran out of energy: a lovely doorway into a small temple at far right would have been a nice contrast had I been able to continue.

Typical of a Bangkok winter, the temperature and humidity were very high, with air pollution reported at dangerously high levels. I was grateful for the free bottle of water that comes with the 110 baht entry fee to Wat Pho for foreigners (120 baht if you don’t have the right change!). The fierce crowds in nearby Mehta road, the endless line of large tourist buses and the fierce heat from the white ramparts and treeless surrounds of the Phraew nearby made for dehydration.

This is a relative open area so crowds didn’t affect me; some made encouraging remarks as they wandered past and because I was sitting on a public seat, I was largely unaware of who was sitting beside me. Monks and temple officials wandered past, as did volunteer temple tour guides mentioning the small groups of statues of yoga positions nearby at ground level (off page far right), Wat Pho is as much a “teaching” temple (medicine, therapeutic massage and yoga: the wall paintings of traditional medicine are part of its UNESCO’s heritage fame) as a spiritual centre. One guide gilded the lily somewhat by emphasising the sexual benefits of yoga; perhaps his audience was losing interest in him. Someone else in passing mentioned these stupas as burial places of great people; I don’t know that for sure. I call them “stupas” because of their shape but that’s probably not strictly correct; my time in Bangkok was a frustrating process of having more questions posed than obtaining answers. Next time I visit Bangkok I want to go round the place with someone who can answer all my questions for me!

I did this between a few hours sketching indoors at the National Museum and meeting up with colleagues for the 2013 SketchWalk Chao Phraya immediately afterwards at 4pm. Wandering around (there was no indication of where everyone was meeting up – in Bangkok you just ‘know’ you’ve arrived when there’s a huge bunch of people in one spot) I bumped into a small group of Thai sketchers – Pui, Sri, Onepen – which was a very friendly and easy introduction just prior to the masses of people involved in the formal welcome shortly with the temple’s Head Monk afterwards at 4pm. Unlike the out-of-towner sketchers who, predictably and justifiably were all buzzy and uptight, the local sketchers were always incredibly relaxed and uneffusively friendly, remarkably interested in my welfare and as cool and delighting as the Chao Phraya River itself which runs through the city.

I wanted to convey the sunlit stillness of the courtyard, notwithstanding the intense riot of colour involved with the highly decorated stupas involving glazed ceramics salvaged from the ballast of Chinese trading ships, the same sort that adorns Wat Arun. This is my typical ‘meditative’ style of sketching, a ‘long-time’ sketch (in contrast to my ‘short-time’ thumbnails and yes, the sexual connotations in my terminology are deliberate) where I observe slowly with contour, without the distraction of colour. Others might splash colour around in creating watercolour paintings as their form of urban sketching, but very often I see in this quick, florid sketching nothing but the capturing of quickness. Often I feel the need to capture just more than quickness!

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