Sex and the City

Obscene wealth is disgusting when you illuminate the suffering hidden within its long shadow, but it’s difficult not to be seduced by the bright glare of its limitless pleasures. Glimmering city vistas as far as the eye can see; the silky warm water of rooftop infinity pools; the company of the world’s most beautiful people. Who wouldn’t be attracted to all that finery? Bangkok painter Boonhlue Yangsauy openly luxuriates in these temptations but keeps a critical eye trained on the disparities embedded within such displays.

The dense oil paintings of Yangsauy revolve around alluring women surrounded by incandescent and glassy creatures. A cast of animals represents different aspects of society, from primates as police to poodles as aristocrats. They’re painted in analogous color schemes of blue, purple, and pink often contrasted by warm bursts of yellow and orange.

Yangsauy started painting in his current style, which has slowly evolved over time, about eight years ago when he began working with Number 1 Gallery. His first solo show with the gallery focused on aging and sexism, featuring skinless sphinx cats dressed like sex workers to comment on the disposability of women in a culture that views them as sex objects. “I probably chose to focus on women because I was the youngest sibling of three sisters,” he says. Most of these pieces were portraits, but there were a few that revealed his penchant for crowded epics that cover urbanization, inequality, sexuality, and fantasy.

Over his next few shows, Yangsauy expanded on this critical perspective, building out worlds that warped children’s books with the same adult subject matter. The cruelty towards women and the strength they build to withstand it is portrayed via sultry women lit by opulent chandeliers and golden Thai ornaments. White Siberian tigers and clown-painted monkeys run around a carnival atmosphere while chimpanzees destroy classic Greek sculptures. A woman is the main course at the Last Supper with a haloed sloth at its center and Cinderella is outfitted with a makuṭa headdress and glass Doc Martins. Women in lingerie look bored and somber tending to indolent poodle overlords.

Yangsauy’s recent work is more refined but no less symbolic. Women in rooftop pools further his unflinching critiques of classist and sexist systems—but he finds more pleasure in these trappings, allowing the beauty of it all to shine on its own. Yangsauy was born and raised in Bangkok, and at 45 years old, has seen the city go through vast change. As a child, his life revolved around the canals that flow through the city like veins, and he recalls a happy time when they were lined with lemon, orange, and coconut gardens. But the modern city has replaced them with gated communities, towering condominiums, and broad highways.

The chlorinated pools take the place of natural waterways and represent capitalist gentrification of the city. The moody young women’s trepidation about their place in such crystal waters filled with lurking predators evokes the growing income gap. Despite all these problems, Yangsauy views the opportunities that come along with this development as progress and sees no shame in enjoying it. “No matter how bad the story I present,” he says, “I still believe that art must have beauty and fun.”