Floating Paradise

A couple lay down in embrace, painted in the style of Japanese ukiyo-e prints but adorned with Thai jewelry and surrounded by a psychedelic array of flowers. This is a characteristic painting of Thai artist Donruedi Bunkaeo, who last year started combining ancient East Asian styles and traditional Thai artwork, with a particular focus on intertwined couples, mysterious cats, religious imagery, and hallucinatory foliage.

“My paintings are about the things I’m fond of, who I truly am, what I pay respect to, and what I desire,” Bunkaeo explains. “The intimate moments are what I long for. It seems like a magic moment, where you’re living in a flower garden in heaven.” Her vision of this is a floating world of kaleidoscopic flower blooms, delicate caresses between loved ones, and a sense of balance and symmetry.

By combining different styles, Bunkaeo’s work highlights both the differences and similarities between them. The respect for nature, the Buddhist beliefs at their cores, and the techniques of using powder colors from natural sources tie them together intimately.

Bunkaeo, who is Thai-Chinese, finds both of those inspirations to be a just natural part of her life. But she found kinship with this style a bit farther from home. “Japanese art tends to convey emotions more effectively,” she says. “I’m definitely not the first to be drawn to their culture.”

But the fluid meaning of one thing that changes as it travels through different places can create discordant effects, like how a cat is considered lazy and lustful in one culture but fortuitous in another. And the golden Thai head dressing and jewelry create a stark contrast when spotted within the flowing folds of intermingling kimonos and nihongami hairstyles. “Any symbol or object has its opposite, like black and white, yin or yang,” she says. And her own perception adds another layer of complexity. “I paint flowers based on the meaning of religious beliefs, literature, and my own experiences. They’re strong and fragile at the same time.” It’s the creation of new balances.