In mid-2016, an initiative between a well-known property developer and a local artist came to fruition. The initiative took on the name ‘F.A.T. Phuket’ (Food Art Town) and the project instantly became the talk of the town. Local artists and some of Thailand’s most famous street artists quite literally canvassed the streets to give the town yet another renovation as colourful paintings and murals started popping up all over the place.
It is no secret that street art tends to be a controversial subject, quite possibly because the concept is often misunderstood. The days of young kids with paint cans spraying graffiti all over the place are mostly past. These days, street art takes on more creative and artistic forms; artists have become more innovative in their approaches, cumulating in some really great murals and gorgeous pieces of art.
Capturing the ‘shabby-chic’ essence of Phuket Old Town, street-art pieces and various murals have brightened up street corners, adding flair to external restaurant walls and noodle shops, enticing tourists as well as locals and expats to wander into previously dark alleys, and have generally added a colourful character to the already charming Old Town district of Phuket. It’s now common to see people posing for pictures in front of these large, colourful pieces of art.
Each unique, the murals and street-art pieces add a welcome dash of colour and a fresh coat of paint to the old town’s once-dreary Sino-Portuguese shop-houses in. The depictions are bright and cheery and some vividly display local culture.
Take two examples, both by a popular Thai street artist with a deep-rooted Peranakan theme running through them, touching on Phuket’s prominent Thai-Chinese heritage. One features a character in an intricate batik sarong and kebaya – traditional garb worn by Phuket’s local Baba community – while the other is a large-scale interpretation of the annual ‘Hungry Ghosts’ (Por Tor) festival, the massive piece a show-stopping red, painted in the form of a turtle, symbolising the red turtle sweet cake – the symbol of long life and good fortune – served during the ‘Por Tor’ festival.
Other scenes often appear to pop up out of nowhere; as you wander the streets of the old town, an impressively large lion’s head graces the entrance to a parking garage while a pastel-rendered bird with large protruding eyes has made the side of a famous local eatery its ‘nest’. A hornbill, a native of the region, is brought to life under an abandoned awning, while a dancing Chinese troupe ups the ante of the entrance to a small but popular Chinese shrine. Indeed, wandering the streets of Phuket Old Town affords the opportunity to get up close and personal to this unique street art and provides a chance to see just how detailed the works actually are.
Whether Phuket’s authorities have fully realised it or not, street art is a fantastic way to promote tourism: it is seen as fresh and contemporary and in today’s social media age the murals in Phuket have proven to be very interactive, prompting people to pose in front of, or alongside, the works while their photograph is taken and promptly uploaded and shared to a worldwide range of social media sites. This can only be a good thing.
The fresh paint decorating Phuket Old Town enhances the certain charm of the area there’s no doubt about that, but perhaps the best outcome of this all is that visitors to the island, as well as locals and expats, have been prompted to get out and about more.
Foot traffic within the already busy Phuket Old Town has increased, which shows that island folk and visitors are discovering more of Phuket and what the island has to offer rather than idling their time away in air-conditioned shopping malls.
As the street art scene in Phuket continues to blossom and flourish, it’ll be grand to see more and more pieces providing unique photographic opportunities as well as scenes that shed a positive, affectionate, light on Phuket Old Town and the island as a whole.
About the artists:
Bon is a Bangkok-based visual and creative street artist skilled in a variety of media including installation, painting, video and performance art, as well as mixed-media. He is well known for his colourful street murals in Thailand and across Southeast Asia.
Patcharapol Tangruen is popularly known as ‘Alex Face’. One of Thailand’s most influential street and graffiti artists, he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine and Applied Arts from Bangkok’s King Mongktut Institute of Technology. An artist with a social conscience, his ‘Baby with the third-eye character’ can be found all over Thailand.
Well known by her colourful hair and striking clothes, Luda is a Phuket-based expat artist originally from Russia. Luda is trained in graphic design, post production, illustration and art direction. She often collaborates with the Attitude Club and is a member of Phuket Sketchers.
Rukkit is a popular street artist and graphic designer from Bangkok. Graduating with a degree in Art Education from Chulalongkorn University, he started painting street murals by stencil in 2011. He’s famous for his colourful and geometric style, and has painted street art in such places as far apart as Hong Kong, India and Dubai.
Better known by his nickname ‘Lolay’, Thaweesak is a well-respected Thai graphic designer and a well-versed artist. Largely known for his local designs and acrylics, Lolay also draws on his international experience as he’s participated in several solo and group exhibitions abroad – and in 2005 enjoyed an artist residency in Japan.
Hailing from Mae Hong Son, Pichit is a prolific artist whose works depict life in the Kingdom in an epic manner. He is famous for bridging the gap between artists and communities, as well as local and national governments. His impressive paintings are an ode to society, mixing images of life in both northern and southern Thailand.
Ton Lim (P7)
Bangkok-based, P7 is an artist and designer who merges contemporary fine art with street-art sensibilities – no mean task. Interestingly, P7 is self-taught. He works all over Thailand and has also displayed on the international market. His work typically intertwines cartoon-like shapes, colours and figures.
Although hard to find, the hornbill is a gorgeous piece that pays homage to one of the island’s local birds
Show-stopping red turtle, symbolising the red turtle sweet cake – a symbol of long life and good fortune – served during the ‘Por Tor’ festival