Ajarn Sawai Chinnawong came by my office today with some recent works of art. We have been friends since he served as a judge for the Christian Volunteers in Thailand logo contest early last year. This time, the works that took my breath away (I have already purchased some of his oil paintings.) were pen-and-ink drawings of such detail and beauty that the photographs (taken with my little Canon Power Shot) do not do them justice. All have a Christian theme. So, with apologies for the poor photographs, let me share some of what I saw today. This beautiful Lotus Madonna (left) seems to glow.
For those of you who do not know Ajarn Sawai Chinnawong, he is a Thai Christian artist. He was the Paul T. Lauby Artist in Residence at Overseas Ministries Study Center in 2003-2004. His love for art began when he was a child in Thailand when he saw some old men painting on a Buddhist temple wall. He would watch them for hours each day. Sawai’s interest in art persisted into adulthood, and he studied art in a vocational school in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at this time that Sawai became a Christian. He says that a missionary was witnessing on the street one day, and soon after, he began to study the Bible every day after art class.
After completing his art studies, Sawai felt compelled to attend the McGilvary College of Theology at Payap University in Chiang Mai. He was deeply influenced by a series of lectures on the history of Christian Art given there in 1984 by artist and professor Nalini Jayasuriya. He began creating liturgical art while attending seminary, and designed the artwork for the chapel there. Today his art is appreciated in many places for its portrayal of Christian themes through a Thai graphic idiom that is inspired by Thai culture. Sawai’s artwork is published by the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre of Hong Kong and by the Asian Christian Art Association of Indonesia.
Sawai Chinnawong’s work has been exhibited in Asia, Sweden and the United States, and he was one of five artists chosen for the Summer of 2007 exhibition “The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today,” held at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City. The catalog for that exhibition, which includes reproductions and critical essays, is available from the Mobia Store. OMSC has also published an 80 page color monograph of Sawai’s drawings and paintings, with an appreciative critical essay by Dr. William Yoder. The book is available through the OMSC Bookstore.
Yes, he did bring some oil paintings along as well, but I could not take my eyes off of these pen-and-ink drawings. Each one has pictures hidden within the picture and a wealth of meaning that flows from his Christian faith. Once again, I asked him how soon the work on his website would be completed, so that his work could be displayed properly and those who were interested in purchasing some of his work could contact him. He assured me that work on the website continues and that, before the end of the year, everyone should be able to view his works and even make purchases online. I am just a preacher. How I wish my words were as eloquent as his art. Amazing!