Cass Art Supports the Slade's Transcultural Art Network

by Cass Art Staff

We are proud to be supporting Slade School of Art’s Transcultural Art Network. An initiative designed to globalise the art curriculum, each year TAN gives two art students the opportunity to take part in an overseas art residency programme and broaden their understanding of the context today. This year saw Ellie Pratt and Barbara Wesolowska visit Bangkok University. We asked the students to give us an account of their unforgettable experience and how it has informed their approach to creating art works.

Ellie Pratt

“Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places”  Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities

I had never travelled to Asia before. This was my first time in a completely foreign landscape. As I stepped through the arrival gates at the airport I was immediately hit by the heat. Dragging my huge heavy suitcase full of art materials through the crowds in search of our contact with Bangkok University who would be taking us to the city. A Friday Afternoon the roads were gridlocked with taxis, buses, cars and trucks spilling out with people on their way home from work. I was tired and jet lagged. It was meant to be 2.30 in the morning but here I was stuck in the afternoon traffic of the Bangkok highway. My face was glued to the window taking in the sites of the city's suburbs. Huge billboards sat next to traditional Thai housing and Temples. As we moved closer to the city centre the buildings got taller. Towering above us as we moved from the highway to the streets of the city the sunlight blinding our view. The sides of the roads were moving with people. Nothing was still. Smart business men and women in suits buying food from the street vendors on their way home from work. Past, new, present all merged to one. I have always thought the drive into a city is its best introduction.

Ellie (third from left) and Barbara (third from right) at the opening of the final exhibition ‘Sympathy Nervous’, with the faculty members at Bangkok University

We spent our first few days getting lost in the city streets trying to track down shops for art materials. This took us to the busy shopping centre of Siam square to the north east centre of the old town, home to the grand palace and golden Buddha. We walked the streets of china town in the midday heat, through a maze of small enclosed alleyways with street stalls and food vendors, dodging pots of hot oil while trying to sieve our way through the crowds. There was so much life on the streets here. An intense bodily experience that completely overwhelmed my senses. A boat trip up the Chao Phraya River took us to a small cave like shop in the north of the city. Here we found canvas, some paints, oil and brushes, enough to start working as soon as we were given our studios in Bangkok University the next day.

Ellie’s paintings in the final exhibition ‘Sympathy Nervous’ at Bangkok University, Bangkok, May 2017

The next two months were spent working in the Fine Art studios alongside the students and tutors. Daily life was waking up at 7.00 am to catch the faculty bus that took us from our apartment in the centre of town to Bangkok University Campus in the north-eastern suburbs of the city. We had weekly tutorials and meetings with the students and generally soaked up the university atmosphere. There was so much time to paint. Such a luxury I hadn't experienced since my time at Slade and RCA. I was able to completely immerse myself in my work, building my ideas, confidence and excitement about the body of work I was creating for the final show at the end of the three months. Everything was feeding my inspiration. We would eat our lunch alongside the students in the university canteen which was situated outdoors surrounding a beautiful lake filled with wildlife. At the end of the day we would catch the bus home back to the city centre and go out into the Bangkok streets for food and bars. Bangkok is such a night time city. Its evening energy has a pulse that beats through the crowds, eating, drinking and selling under the city lights. Bangkok evenings were full of people socialising and interacting on its streets. We spent many a night eating and drinking all over the city. The food was amazing and the atmosphere was addictive.

Ellie’s paintings in the final exhibition ‘Sympathy Nervous’ at Bangkok University, Bangkok, May 2017

After these long dreamlike evenings we would then catch a ride on the skytrain back to Ekkamai where we were staying. The skytrain was our main mode of transport. A huge train line that moved through the city skyline, towering above the streets below. This gave way to my first painting 'Night Tube'. I was struck by these crowds of people being moved around the city. So many people packed into each carriage but all sat on their mobile phones not interacting with each other. I wanted to make a painting that was of a crowd but each person was isolated and lit up individually like a Caravaggio painting. Bangkok's stark difference in energy between light and dark, old and new was something that would be a main source of inspiration for me over the rest of the residency. I was so intrigued in how Bangkok's new technologies, architecture and generations collided with its historical buildings, culture and traditions.

Encountering such new and inspiring daily experiences provided me with imagery and ideas I could not have created otherwise. It was so stimulating to be able to develop my painterly language in an environment that was so rich with both physical and visual experience. I had such an amazing time and it was so beneficial for the development of me as an artist. It was a surreal experience to be immersed into such an unfamiliar place and culture however it provided me with an understanding of myself and my work that I could not have imagined. 

Barbara Wesolowska

Agnes Martin in her notebooks described inspiration as an ‘untroubled state of mind’. She wrote: ‘An inspiration is a happy moment that takes us by surprise. Some people are so startled by inspiration or a condition of inspiration, which is so different from day to day concerns that they think they are unique in having it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Inspiration is there all the time, for anyone whose mind is not covered over by thoughts and concerns.’

Barbara’s paintings in the final exhibition ‘Sympathy Nervous’ at Bangkok University, Bangkok, May 2017

Her words resonated with me strongly when after twelve hours’ journey I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.  It seemed as if I was transported to a very strange, unknown place. The city seemed an explosion of noise, speed and colours. Dramatic, almost futuristic architecture, with sky train lines cutting and fragmenting the urban landscape, distorting an idea or celestial and terrestrial, made me feel as if scale was something that could be endlessly stretched and played with.

Barbara in the studio at Bangkok University 

Forced into a position of an observer, I honed my sensibility to the tender moments of beauty, cruelty or erotic tension that I witnessed while exploring the city during the day and at night. The colours, temperature and intensity of those moments, lent themselves to my paintings.

Barbara’s paintings in the final exhibition ‘Sympathy Nervous’ at Bangkok University, Bangkok, May 2017

But the biggest change of all was what happened to my sense of time. I found myself enjoying the luxury of unlimited hours for thinking, reading and walking the streets. I truly thrived artistically by allowing all those experiences to enter my work.

As a young artist living in London, one has to constantly prove how well things are going and how up things are looking. The true experience however is more that of cycling home at midnight from the freezing studio in the pouring rain. Often the painting I left in the studio, overworked or alternatively cowardly stuck in its first freshness, had to wait till the next day until I had finished earning money before I could come back to it, already tired.

A snapshot of Bangkok University Campus

But here I am in Bangkok, making a clay sculpture, it has to dry so I take it out into the sunshine and I sit on a stone step to look at it. It’s 4 pm; I listen to the crickets’ noise and watch the shadow of the sculpture move and a little nervous lizard approach.

Bangkok Flower Market

After months and years of living on will power, the biggest joy of being an artist in residence, is the feeling that you are meant to be there. This fantastic dream became true, someone lovely was waiting to pick us up at the airport, there was an apartment, the studio, the exhibition and there was the time. Thanks very much Cass Art for your support.

Paul Thek said: “I sometimes think, that there is nothing but time, that what you see and what you feel is what time looks like at the moment”


Thank you Ellie and Barbara for sharing your experience!

 To see more of Ellie Pratt’s artwork click here

 To see more of Barbara Wesolowska’s artwork click here                                                                                                                                                              

Opening image (see top): Lake, Oil on Canvas, 180x170cm, Barbara Wesolowska

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