Superheroes and villains, giant monsters and hybrid animals. They’re the stuff of comic books and fantasy epics. But they’re also at the center of folk mythology and religious tales. Thai painter Athip Rianloetrattana purposely highlights these similarities, drawing on the style of book covers and comic drawings to accentuate the action and excitement of ancient stories from across the world. Her work mainly revolves around the Thai national epic Ramakien but often blends those characters, scenes, and ideas with others from China, the West, and her own imagination.
Rianloetrattana—better known online by her shortened name Ath Rian—grew up reading about Greek mythology, ancient Chinese literature, Ramayana, and the Brothers Grimm alongside traditional Thai works and was always in awe at the scenes depicted within. “Every book I read came with old-style illustrations,” she recalls. Those visuals and stories, combined with video games, comics, and fan art for books and films, formed the root of her current style. “My paintings are a way to show how much I love these stories. I have so much fun adding details to the characters, their costumes, and the backgrounds.”
Her paintings are exaggerated for effect, done in perspectives far below or above with powerful colors over more reserved tones. The characters are draped in detailed costumes within dense architectural settings and striking emotive poses. True to her gaming and film inspirations, she hides easter eggs throughout her work as well, like the shadow of Hanuman from Ramakian looming over the Monkey King of the ancient Chinese novel Journey To The West.
Architecture has fascinated Rianloetrattana for nearly as long as art and literature, and it’s clear from the backgrounds of many of her paintings. The Roman-influenced hallway of her middle school sparked this passion, and for years she would add European-style designs to her drawings. But as she got older she broadened her interests and learned the role that architecture plays in identity. “It carries the message of a culture,” she says. Now, whenever she decides on a story to paint, she’ll study the related architecture and her work features everything from Chinese scroll murals to ancient Thai carpentry.
While Rianloetrattana’s paintings are rooted in stories that have already been told, she’s not afraid to combine or add to them as a way to highlight certain aspects or note the similarities between others. In her world, Mandodari from Ramakien will visit the tomb of her slain love Tossakan and lie beside it, pregnant. “I feel so sorry for her, she was given away to so many men as if she was just an object.” And she also paints Rama cradling his dead younger brother Lakshmana in the style of Virgin Mary and dying Jesus paintings.
The work is a celebration of Rianloetrattana’s favorite characters and stories, and she hopes viewers will feel the same. “I’m preserving folktales, myths, and legends with a modern style for the kids, who often don’t even know them but still like the paintings because they look cool,” she explains. It’s a way to tell these stories—and the values, beliefs, and traditions they hold—to a new generation. “This is the long-term memory of human society.”