44, Artist/Warp 54 Studio
Belgian artist Christian Develter has called Bangkok home for over 15 years. Warp 54, the warehouse-cum-studio near the Chao Phraya River that he runs with business partner Peter Smits, has played host to all manner of events not typically associated with traditional art spaces (pop-up restaurants, magazine launches, radical performance art), while his bright and aesthetically bold canvas paintings have found homes in a host of the city’s most chic establishments. Now, Develter’s latest series of works, influenced by the tattoos found on the faces of Burma’s Chin ethnic minority group, feature in a collection from local clothing label Tube Gallery (try 1/F, Siam Paragon, Rama 1 Rd., www.tube-gallery.com. BTS Siam) that has already debuted on Paris runways and will launch at Warp 54 later this month.
How did you come across the tattoos?
I found out about them when I was traveling. They have all these different sorts of patterns. Some have dots, others have stripes; one from one specific region near Mount Victoria [in Chin state, western Burma] is like a spiderweb. The communities live on the side of the mountain. The housing and everything, it’s very primitive. There’s no electricity, there’s no running water. It was about a 10-hour ride by jeep. You need guides as you’re absolutely not free to travel. When we there we met some Myanmar people traveling by themselves and, well, we were the main attraction!
What’s their significance?
Actually, most of the locals don’t even know themselves. It’s animistic. They represent tigers, lizards, things like that. Mostly they incorporate a symbol of the sun. The British and then the current government both tried to ban it, but we saw some young girls who were still doing it. When I visited, I already had some paintings finished. I had them on my iPad, so I showed them. The amazing thing is that every region has different tattoos, so the locals automatically knew from the designs where the subjects came from. I didn’t know how they would react, but generally they were happy and thought it was very interesting.
How did they inspire your paintings?
The portraits are symmetrical—it’s the same picture flipped over. I wanted to present the tattoos in a modern way, not too tribal. I was wary that it would become too ethnic rather than iconic. It’s the combination of urban beauty and tribalism that make it an interesting mix. It’s all about evolution—it’s an interpretation of the tattoo, so I made the lines red instead of blue.
How did the collaboration with Tube Gallery come about?
The two designers from Tube Gallery asked me if they could have a fashion show here [at Warp 54]. Then they saw this collection and thought it was really great, so they decided to base a whole collection on it. They added some personal ideas, like butterflies. I didn’t direct them in any way. I thought they should be free to do what they want. The story, combined with my paintings and the fashion aspect, it’s a very interesting concept.
Warp 54 (Charoen Krung Soi 30) is open by appointment. Contact 081-867-5002, www.warp54.com. www.christiandevelter.com