Arguably Thailand’s greatest artist of our time, Chalermchai Kositpipat, 58, has made headlines for creating the magnificent Wat Rong Khun temple in Chiang Rai and championing Thai arts. Now busy producing the third season of the award-winning art reality show Ton Silapa, on TPBS, he opens up to BK about how art can improve our society and the failures of Thai education and Buddhism.

I’m fucking perfect. I’m good at art, management, PR and presentations. There is no defect in me.

My success has been very well-planned, down to the smallest detail. I planned to run away from home when I was just a painter for the theater at 14 years old, and I planned to get into Poh Chang College and then attend Silpakorn University. I did it all.

I always hit my targets faster than I plan to. I aimed to win the grand prize when I was in my fifth year of study—I got it in my fourth year. I planned to own my first house within five years—I got it in three. I planned to own a Mercedes in 10 years—I had it in seven. I planned to make B10 million in 15 years—I got it in 11.

Smart people don’t necessarily come from the best families. I came from a poor and broken home. I was like an animal in the jungle, willing to do anything just to survive.

Stupid people run away from a crisis, but smart ones don’t. I’ve succeeded since I was young because I dared to take on challenges. I’ve never met with failure.

It frustrated me so much that people would look down upon Thai art and blindly favor Western art when I studied at Silpakorn. I declared that one day I would take Thai art to the world stage.

To create greatness, you must make sacrifices. I kicked all my bad habits in order to succeed. The greatest victory is when you win over your own heart.

As an artist you must have a unique style and wide knowledge. It’s important to learn other skills such as marketing, psychology and networking, too. You can’t isolate yourself and just wait to be discovered anymore.

There’s too much failure inherent in Buddhism. Our under-developed religious teachings fail to get people to the core of Buddhism. The monks in charge of preserving Buddhism are also guilty as they create religious places without truly understanding the arts.

Not only do monks destroy old art, they create new pieces that are tasteless and worthless. It’s quite upsetting to see billions worth of gold and money turned into artless trash.

I’m one of the very best artists because I understand dharma and art. I wanted to invent a new artistic style dedicated to King Rama IX, so it had to be unique. That’s the reason I built Wat Rong Khun.

When you are rich and successful, it’s imperative that you go back and develop your hometown and country. I chose to build a temple in my hometown of Chiang Rai because I wanted to bestow it with greatness. Some foreigners have even called me the Antoni Gaudí of Asia.

Art is the treasure of humanity. Religion belongs to certain races, communities or countries but art belongs to everyone. Everyone can appreciate art. I create food for the soul of all humanity.

Relying on money from others restricts your freedom. That’s why I’ve never taken donations to build Wat Rong Khun. I’ve spent nearly B800 million in the past 18 years. I plan to work on it until I die and be cremated there, so that my supporters can continue to build it for the next 60 years.

Humanity is about goodness. I strip away my entire ego and am left with only mercy. That’s why I always give opportunities to poor farmers, drug addicts or drunkards who are willing to change their life to work at the temple.

We have so many silly singing contests, so I thought, why shouldn’t we have a reality show that encourages people to make art? For the first two seasons of Ton Silapa, I stumped up my own money for the grand prize as we couldn’t attract sponsors. This season we’ve got sponsors as I think more people are realizing the importance of culture and art in society.

Thai society is blind when it comes to aesthetics. It’s foolish when it comes to art and it doesn’t know the value of sensibility.

IQ-targeted education causes all sorts of problems for our country. It makes children compete to be the best and creates egos, whereas EQ [emotional quotient]-geared teaching also creates morals, ethics and goodness. We’ve ignored this side of things for such a long time and that’s why there’s so much corruption.

Culture is art and art is the most important tool to change this country. Thai people are so unsystematic, never caring about following the rules. I noticed that in developed countries kids are sent to art museums to get inspiration. It helps train their mind and learn to respect others. Imagination is the key.

Our teachers don’t understand art. The education reform concept of making students learn about local art is good, but the problem is teachers just don’t have the knowledge base.

If you see lots of beautiful art and truly understand it, you have found happiness. And when you’re happy, you won’t be tempted by corruption and try to exploit others. Instead, you will be a watchdog for your beloved country.

Humans can’t live without art. It helps you understand the world and be able to live happily. You don’t even have to buy it because art is everywhere; it’s in architecture, nature and even your imagination.


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