Pandemic Collision Course

A house of cards can collapse like nothing. A balloon can pop just as easily. But they both possess a sense of joy—although fleeting and fragile, they’re fanciful creations, floating away into the clouds and towering as high as one can stack them. These opposing traits are at the center of Thai oil painter Aphisit Sidsunthia’s work.

There’s an overwhelming sense of unease across his art, a tense feeling of anxiety that’s impossible to shed. But bleak settings and grim acts of violence are paired with a pulsating command of energy and bubbling surrealism that make it impossible to look away.

Sharp, angular lighting makes characters jut out of thin air magically, while lens refractions glow in the foreground. Objects, people, and animals are spliced apart abruptly and washed away, piled on top of each other in a jumble of color and madness. Wolves unceremoniously pick at forgotten remains in despairingly lonely scenes. Soldiers and workers sheathed in head-to-toe PPE launch fusillades at unseen enemies or go about mundane, daily tasks. Dead bodies are littered about everywhere.

Aphisit landed on his style about three years ago, inspired by his experiments with photo collages. He draws on skillful photograph, poorly captured imagery from social media, and polaroids. Using this variety of media is a substantive act and not simply just aesthetic fodder: “These photo types are related to class and perception,” he says. “It’s also a confrontation of memory, both personal and collective, and how context makes all of this fluid. But I’m posing questions, not offering answers. It’s about exploration not discovery.”

His style was accelerated by the pandemic and the fallout he witnessed. How our perceptions changed and the fact that the new normal is not necessarily normal at all. Because of this, people in power are able to use extreme circumstances to act with impunity, wielding new powers unimaginable beforehand. All of this is thrust into his work repeatedly.

But all hope is not lost. The sea greens coaxed from hospital rooms can certainly evoke feelings of uncertainty and danger. But they’re also places of healing and recovery. Like the playing cards, there’s a flip side to many things, it just depends on how you look at them. “We control it or it controls us,” he suggests.