Visual Artist James Jirat Patradoon
James Jirat Patradoon is a visual artist based in Bangkok whose work is informed by a wealth of cultural references. From 80s aesthetics and 90s fashion, to comic books and tattoo design, he renders his ideas in flashes of neon and monochrome, creating captivating gifs, murals and digital artwork. He recently had a show of paintings at Superchief Gallery in Los Angeles and Cell Vision correspondent Andrew Rinehart was there to capture the event on camera and sit with James to discuss his work, his background, and what it’s like being an artist outside of the mainstream art world.
Author’s Note: I met James on the night of his opening at Superchief gallery in Downtown Los Angeles. Full disclosure: it was late into the night and some drinks may or may not have been flowing. What follows is an excerpt from our very informal interview.
CELL VISION: How would you describe your artistic process?
JAMES JIRAT: Basically I have this to-do list of drawings that I’ve been working through for the past year, and this show is the product of taking those images and layering them on top of each other kind of like a collage to create new compositions.
CELL VISION: So you’re essentially doing a bunch of drawings of these individual elements and then combining things?
JJ: Yeah! Pretty much.
CELL VISION: How are you actually executing it? What media are you working with?
JJ: I start everything digitally in this program called Clip Studio Paint and I draw using a graphics tablet.
CELL VISION: And do you use a grid or whatever or just freehand?
JJ: I start with photo collages for reference and base images off those and just go straight in digitally — that way it’s high resolution and I can play around with layers. For this show I took those digital mockups and turned them into paintings.
CELL VISION: What are the steps you take to turn it into an actual painting?
JJ: Usually I’d use a projector, but my apartment in Bangkok is super small and there was no room, so this time around I heat transferred the sketches onto canvas super light as a guide, and then painted over them.
CELL VISION: Is there anything novel about the paint you use?
JJ: They’re all different brands of acrylic paint. I had to explore Bangkok to find all the right colors to match what I wanted and also finding the right fluros and metallics etc. which was really hard because there aren’t a lot of art supply shops in Bangkok.
CELL VISION: Are you mixing colors?
JJ: Yea the pink is a custom one, the neons I made in batches because I have to use them across every painting. So I just make 500 mils of whatever color. Once I match it and get the swatches right I use it over everything so they’re all consistent as a set.
CELL VISION: Did you paint all the paintings that are in the show at the same time? Do they all use the same color palette?
JJ: Yeah the painting part itself took about a month, but it took about six months to come up with the images themselves and get them resolved, kind of a “measure twice, cut once” approach.
CELL VISION: Do you think you’ll stick with this process for awhile?
JJ: It’s a method that I reverse engineered from looking at a lot of artists I really like who combine digital with physical art. I was somewhat just guessing and experimenting at first, but I’ve been able to see their physical work recently and was stoked to see that I had actually guessed right. I was also trying to find a method that worked with the time constraints and space limitations I had.
CELL VISION: Are there any of those artists in particular who you feel like you really draw inspiration from?
JJ: Keiichi Tanaami is a big one. He’s in his 60s and a lot of his work is based on surviving World War 2. For his method he draws on paper, collages it physically or digitally, and then turns those into very dense, rich paintings. Making a physical object was important to me because with social media our experience of art is often so digital. So for a lot of this stuff I still want like an aura or presence to it, hence using the neons and the metallics because those are experienced best IRL.
CELL VISION: That’s what I was wondering, because from a distance it almost looks like the pieces could be printed. But that’s obviously a lot cooler that you’re still doing the tactile work.
JJ: Yea, I really felt like they needed an aura to them. The works here are the final work and the real thing. A lot of time when you do painting in this style like this you try to make it clean and perfect, but I don’t want it to be that perfect, so I keep a lot of the paint drips and inconsistent paint coverage. If I wanted it to be perfect I’d just print it out.
CELL VISION: Right. I noticed that there are a lot of different references to fashion brands and such. What’s your thinking behind that?
JJ: In Bangkok you’re surrounded by a lot of fake fashion knockoffs everywhere, and I just love that, being able to audaciously use a brand for its symbology and mythos on stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with the brand, remixing those expectations. You can use a skull or a snake or a phoenix or whatever — but once u start messing with actual fashion brand name stuff, that’s got a whole other vibe to it. I also I use a lot of Chinese characters because I’m half Chinese and I love bringing that kind of foreign element into my work. I really love Chinese medicine package design — the graphic design is so dense and often you can’t tell what anything is for unless you can read Chinese, so I wanted to channel a bit of that. I want to create images that are familiar but at the same time feel foreign.
CELL VISION: So what is your background exactly? Where were you born, etc.?
JJ: I’m Thai-Chinese mix. I was born in Thailand, but then I grew up in Australia.
CELL VISION: What age did you leave Thailand?
JJ: A year old.
CELL VISION: Ok, so your formative years were in Australia then.
JJ: Yep, which is super ingrained in me. Going back to Bangkok was kind of me trying to reconnect with my roots.
CELL VISION: Did u go to art school?
JJ: Yep! It’s called something different now, but it used to be called The College of Fine Art, in Sydney. That was a really good time for me, I really liked it. I like the Australian approach to making art, you kind of just do it, the scene is really small, and you don’t really know where you sit because we’re a bit isolated from the rest of the world, so it feels like you’re secretly kind of making work in the dark. Like I don’t really know who likes my stuff.
CELL VISION: That’s not so bad though, right? Cuz you’re kind of creating your own world without a whole lot of pressure…
JJ: Definitely — that tends to happen in places that are kind of isolated. You kind of have to make up your own internal world, and you’re not influenced by whatever is happening around you as much as you would in a city with more going on.
CELL VISION: Right, you’re not like going to shows in Chelsea every weekend.
JJ: Yea. You’re not like, okay this is happening in the scene, or that’s happening in the scene, so I’m gonna emulate this and that because you know it’s popular — you just exist in a weird vacuum, which I really like.
CELL VISION: What would you say are the themes of your work?
JJ: A lot of my work comes from pushing this idea of camp. I like pushing hyper sexuality to a point where it’s not even sexual anymore.
CELL VISION: Yea I was gonna ask you because there’s a lot of sexuality in your work —
JJ: Yeah I like pushing it super far into what it’s meant to be, and then what eventually happens is it kind of ticks over and has the opposite effect and becomes camp. I personally don’t find these to be erotic paintings or anything like that, I just find them to be weirdly neutral.
CELL VISION: As an outsider they do seem kind of sexy. Do you get that a lot?
JJ: Not really, which is weird, right?
CELL VISION: How do women feel about it? Being that there are lots of images of women in the paintings.
JJ: I get a good response, maybe because the characters have their own agency, but I’m not completely sure why people love it. And more so I don’t know why guys love it. I’m always pushing this imagery to a point where it’s not really supposed to be sexual. All the figures are all very empowered, yet everyone’s objectified in it, do you get what I mean? I like that.
CELL VISION: There’s a lot of sexuality being thrown around in LA, I’m sure you’ve gleaned that by now, and a lot of sexuality in this scene. The shows they have here at Superchief often feature work that is of a sexual nature. I think that is something that’s fun about LA, people are extremely open and very sex-positive here, but you know it’s 2019 so it can also be seen as controversial.
JJ: I do find that there is a point with the sexuality thing where it just becomes neutral. Where it becomes so overblown that you just ignore it. When you’re exposed to it so much, where it just becomes so over the top that it becomes camp. I’m into games like Bayonetta, and pop stars like Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, etc., where this kind of sexuality becomes so over the top that is just in this kitchy/campy/Elvira type zone.
CELL VISION: Sort of John Waters land.
JJ: Exactly. Where it uses a language of mainstream sexuality, but it means something else.
CELL VISION: It becomes something different.
JJ: Yea, it’s in the space between it. You know, if people find my stuff erotic, that’s cool, but it was never meant to be. I use the language of erotica and then take it to a point where it’s something else.
Some of James Jirat Patradoon’s work can be seen this week at Superchief Gallery's "The Death Of The Present" at Art Basel in Miami. More of his work can be found online at his website.