Name: Patcharapon “Alex” Tangruen
Alias: Alex Face
D.O.B.: June 10, 1981
Hometown: Chachoengsao, Thailand
Current City: Bangkok
We met Alex Face at his home/studio on June 13, 2011. Alex lives in Bangkok west of the Chao Phraya River. His “moo baan” [a type of gated community common throughout Thailand] is a great, peaceful neighborhood he shares with his wife, Petcharat, and baby, Mardi.
SY: So where were you born?
A: I was born in Chachoengsao. It’s really close to Bangkok on the way to Pattaya [east]. Nothing there. Just factories and rice farms, but now they’ve changed and are farming salt water shrimp.
SY: When did you move to Bangkok?
A: I moved to Bangkok when I was studying at Ladkrabang University.
SY: What did you study?
A: I studied printmaking, wood cuts, etching, screens. After I finished school, I didn’t have access to printmaking supplies, so I started painting.
SY: Were you always into art as a kid?
A: Yeah. Actually I remember when I was very young, maybe three years old, my aunt bought books and pencils for me, and I drew a lot. I would practice control and drawing circles until they were perfect. It made me feel like, WOW. When I studied in school, I would just draw.
SY: What would you draw?
A: Japanese cartoons.
SY: Any cartoons in particular?
A: Dragonball, like the hair. I would draw actors from the t.v. I thought my drawings looked exactly like the actors and showed my grandma. She would say, “yes,” but they didn’t really look like the actors. [laughs]
SY: Since you drew a lot in high school, did you know right away that you wanted to study fine art in college?
A: My dad didn’t want me to study art. My parents thought I wouldn’t be able to make any money. It made me think that maybe I shouldn’t study art because I would be poor. My friend encouraged me to keep on painting and to study art. I talked to my dad about it again, and he agreed that I could study art.
SY: Where did you learn English? It’s pretty good.
A: From movies, man. I never knew English when I was younger. I couldn’t speak until I was in university, so about 18 years old. One day I went to Khao San [the backpacker area in Bangkok], and I met a guy from the U.S. I tried to speak to him, but I couldn’t understand anything. I realized I have to learn English. I watched movies and tried to understand. When I would meet farang [Westerners], I tried to practice with them.
Later I lived in Bangkok on Phahonyothin with an American guy, an English guy and a Japanese guy. We shared a house for a year, so I learned a lot by talking to them every day. I figured it was better to pay rent than to pay for an English school.
A: I liked to do woodcuts mixed with etchings. I like the etchings because you can get a lot of textures when you print. A lot of people use dark colors, but I liked using brighter colors.
SY: Do you still have your prints?
A: I have a box with some prints, but most of them are at a friend’s house.
SY: Did you apprentice anywhere when you were studying printmaking?
A: I didn’t work too much with printmaking outside of school. If I have a show, sometimes I’ll get someone to burn me a screen, so I can print some t-shirts at home. For my show at Preduce in Chiang Mai, I printed up some shirts.
SY: So what did you do after you finished university?
A: I was very poor, man. You know I can’t work with computers. It gives me a headache. I like working with my hands. When I finished school, all of my friends went to work for graphic design companies, but it wasn’t for me. I would work random jobs making small sculptures or paintings for people. I got work reproducing impressionist paintings. A guy from the States was living here [in Thailand] for 30 years and started a business selling copies of paintings online. He didn’t pay very well. I would get about 3,000 baht for a large painting, but I know he would sell them for about 30,000 baht. At that time I was very young, so I didn’t have much choice. I painted a lot of Monets.
SY: How long would it take you reproduce one large painting?
A: If I was getting paid 3,000 baht, I figured I had to finish in 3 days. If I would finish in 6 days, I would be poor. Finishing in 3 days meant I would get 1,000 baht a day. If he paid me 6,000, I would take 5 or 6 days. I think like that.
SY: Yeah, like how much is your time worth.
A: I would work all day. I start around 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., then I take a break to skate and paint some more.
SY: What did he give you as a reference for copying?
A: He gave me a copy from a book. If it was a one meter painting, he would blow it up, so I could see the detail. I would paint with the picture first, then I go back with more detail after.
SY: Oh, it’s a Taschen book on Monet.
A: Yeah, I tried to paint it every brush stroke. A popular one was the waterlilies. But this one I had to do like three paintings of it [points to picture in book Impression Sunrise, 1873]. I hated to do that one because when Monet made the original it was quick and free, but when you have to copy something like that it is very hard, matching the color and the brush strokes
SY: Was that in oil or acrylic?
A: In oil.
SY: Did they give you the paint and all the specific colors?
A: No. I had to get the canvas too.
SY: What! So you get 3,000 baht, and you had to buy your own materials and canvas.
SY: Wow, that’s expensive.
A: He wasn’t a good guy. He had a lot of wives.
SY: Shady! So how long did you do that for?
A: October, November and December are the high seasons for reproduction work because people give them as gifts. I painted for those three months out of the year, but after two years I quit. At that time I started working in art production for movies.
SY: For movie sets?
A: For movies and commercials.
SY: What would you paint for that?
A: They would say just art production, but I did everything. You have to build, clean, carry things. It’s very hard work. Sometimes you would work until midnight or 2 a.m., then you sleep for 2 or 3 hours and start again at 5 a.m. I met a lot of people working on movies though, so I would get calls for more jobs. My job was really as the best boy on set.
SY: What’s the biggest movie you’ve ever worked on?
A: I worked with the Thai director who was born in Hong Kong, Danny Pang. Have you heard of him?
SY: Hmm… What was the movie?
A: Abnormal Beauty. The movie was about a girl who’s a painter and goes crazy, so he needed me to do the paintings for her. I did some crazy paintings.
SY: So if we watch Abnormal Beauty, you made the paintings in the movie?
A: Actually, it was me and a friend painting. We painted most of the pictures in the movie. Like the nude paintings and stuff like that.
I met a special effects make-up artist, and he called me to see if I could help him. It was a good job, and the work wasn’t as hard like being best boy. I helped paint the actors’ faces, and the room was nice and air conditioned.
SY: What kind of make-up did you do? Was it like monster make-up?
A: I worked on a comedy with a famous Thai comedian Nhong Cha Cha Cha Cha. He was a wolf that looks at the moon.
SY: Ah, a werewolf!
A: Thai werewolf. A small nose like a dog, like a Thai dog.
SY: So he was a funny werewolf for a comedy.
[*The movie is Werewolf in Bangkok.]
A: I worked on that movie for two weeks. After that I was talking to my dad, and I promised him I would go be a monk.
SY: How old were you then?
A: I was 23. I had to go be a monk. In one day life changed from drinking, partying, skating and being crazy to going to the temple with long hair.
SY: Did they cut your hair off?
A: First I had to stay in the temple for a week to pray and prepare. Everyone was looking at me like I had just gotten out of jail. I was a monk for four months.
A: For the family, they think it will be good for him to be a monk because it is good for the family. Like being a monk will get everyone into heaven.
SY: Doing tambon [merit] for the whole family!
A: When you’re a monk you have to work for the temple. I would fix and paint doors.
SY: What wat [temple] were you at?
A: In my hometown, Chachoengsao. It was a temple around my house. It was a good time for me. Quiet. The first week I didn’t know what to do with myself.
SY: Going crazy?
A: You keep going and going. You study about Buddha. Just one time in life when you stay quiet, pray every day and walk in the morning.
SY: What’s a day like for a monk? Like what time do you have to get up, and do you have to do alms in the morning?
A: I wake up at 4 a.m., take a shower and go to the temple to pray for half an hour. Then I walk for about 6 km. The first day I wore shoes.
SY: Usually monks wear no shoes, right?
A: Yeah, no shoes. One day it was raining, so I went without shoes thinking the ground would be softer. I walked for a little bit, and it hurt a lot. I was walking with an older monk and had to ask him to wait for me because of the pain. I walked really slow and when I got back my feet had bloody spots everywhere. The next day I walked with no shoes again, and after a week I felt like I could go anywhere in the world without shoes. My feet were very strong. I could step on a cigarette!
SY: How did it affect your life and work after you left the monastery?
A: It made me quiet and made me think a lot about my life. Did I want to go back to working on movies or try to find my own way and style? The make-up artist asked if I wanted to work on another movie, but I had to go to Samui to work for a month. When I got back, I didn’t call him and decided to do my own thing. I didn’t really like working on movies because I had to work with a lot of people. It’s a lot of, “I order it, so you do it.” I’d rather stay home painting. If I worked on the movie, I wouldn’t have time to do my painting.
SY: So outside of school when was the first time you had a gallery show?
A: Three years after that. I didn’t think to do a show in a gallery. I thought its impossible. I don’t know how to deal with a gallery. So I just kept painting. One time I tried to sell my paintings in JJ Market, just for one month. You have to rush and do paintings all week and then on the weekend to sell. Some people can do it. If someone does quick style and it sells, that is good, but if you spend a lot of time painting, it’s not good. You won’t make any money. I did paintings for a shop in Suan Lum Night Bazaar but not in my style, just abstract. Very easy stuff that is just good for decoration.
SY: We would call that office art.
A: All the people at the market like to buy those. Oh this painting is good, and you sell it very cheap. That is why you do it quick, because you have to sell it cheap. I did that, and I felt unhappy. What am I doing?
SY: How old were you when you sold at the Night Bazaar?
A: Around 24 or 25. So it was after the wat. I tried to have my own shop because my friends were there. Most of the time it’s just sitting around drinking.
SY: Just like JJ.
A: You just sit in the shop looking at people, drinking, looking at your friends. Drunk. I sold some paintings, but I wasn’t happy. When I finished those paintings, I didn’t feel anything. It’s just the color.
SY: Did you even sign your name on the paintings?
A: No, I didn’t feel good about them. So I’d have to do other jobs to help pay for the rent. Take jobs to do spray paintings. If I have to work and pay the rent, I’m not making money, so I had to stop the shop at Suan Lum. I called a friend and asked if he wanted to just come and take my shop. When I did one show I met this lady who was a curator at a gallery on Rama 4. She would come in the shop and hang out with me. She knew I did graffiti and spray painting and asked “you want to do a show in the gallery?” Yes, yes, yeah! It was quite a big gallery, so I called my friends, like six people to do a group show. Four of them did graffiti and two were painters. The curator knew the famous comedian guy Note Udom, so she called him and told him to come to the opening. Lots of people came to the show because they wanted to see Note Udom. So that was the first gallery show and after that a year later we did anther one.
SY: So when did you actually start your involvement in graffiti and street art?
A: I started in 2002 when I was Year 2 in university.
SY: What was the first thing you saw that made you want to start doing graffiti?
A: I saw a book about spray paint. My friend would bring books and say “look at this guy.” Barry McGee, Dave Kinsey. Wow! Looked interesting. So I think I can do it, and I started to paint. One time there was this old car that was unused, and I just brought like white and red spray paint. I wrote my name Alex on the car. Quick, big fun. I practiced at my house. It wasn’t really my house. I was renting it. I would do it all over. On the door. On the wall. I did monsters and crazy stuff on the front door. My neighbor would be like Alex can you clean up the door.
At first I just did A-L-E-X all the time, but it got boring, so I thought I should do something else. When I did printmaking I drew my face on the print. Drawing my face on the wall was more fun. You get to improvise.
SY: When we moved here two years ago, we would see your giant pieces like the one that used to be up by Phloen Chit BTS. When did you start doing those?
A: Not that long ago probably 3 or 4 years ago. I try to go big all the time. When I do small wall, I do the same thing, quite boring. If I can paint on a big wall I try to do the whole thing. I don’t think I’m going to do big. I just go to the big wall. I do big.
SY: How long do the big pieces take? Like the baby face by Phloen Chit?
A: Three hours. Its all spray paint. First you roller with white then the rest is spray. At Phloen Chit there was the guy saying, “No. Don’t paint!” He was sleeping in the front, and we painted for a few hours. He woke up and was like, “Whoa! You can’t do it here!” I tell my friend “Hey go buy some M150 [popular energy drink] now.” Go get it, and I will talk to him. “P’ krup,” you know that sweet talking. Every time when I get problems it’s, “P’ krup.”
SY: Turn on the charm. So you like to paint during the hottest part of the day when the guard is asleep?
A: I think if it’s an empty wall it should be okay. I explain to the guard that I want it to look good. I spend a lot of money on the paint and make it nice.
SY: So where did you learn to paint?
A: I started in high school. When we would have an hour for lunch I just spent time in the art room painting. Even after school, I’d stay in the art room painting. The teacher looked at my painting when I first started school, like around age 12 and said if you want to paint just come to the art room everything is free, the paper, the color, the brush. You can paint. So I would paint everyday. One day he says I’m going to enter you in a contest. At that time there was an art contest almost every month of the year. I was always entering those. Sometimes you could win a little bit of money too. Then in college I practiced more, tried to do things in a more realistic style. I developed technique so when I got to university I was ready to think about the concept but then I began to study printmaking. Which I had never done before. They would teach you special technique but you had to develop your own style.
SY:What do you think helped you develop your style and influenced the way you work now?
A: The baby, you know my work changed a lot when I had the baby. Before I just painted the half face everywhere. Half face. Half face. Half Face. Some people would ask why I only did the half face, say it’s so boring. Which may be true because I didn’t want to do anything, just put my face on the wall. I didn’t think about concept. I just thought, I’d be there, put my face on the wall. When I had the baby I started to look at her face [makes pouty face]. I ask her, “What are you thinking? You don’t want to be in the world now?” I had the concept that I can talk about what is bad in the world now with the baby face. The baby does not want to be in the world because now it’s not good. Because we consume too much
SY: So all these baby faces are you interpreting what you think the baby is seeing and thinking?
A: Yeah. I worry about the future. When she grows up what will be in the future. People talk so much about global warming and the end of the world. I think one problem is we consume everything, build everything, just to make more money. Play hard, work hard. Play hard, work hard. Buy, buy, buy. The end of the world will be caused by humans. That’s what I think. It’s not global warming, it’s the humans.
SY: Does Mardi look at these paintings and recognize her face in them?
A: She knows. After I finish she will point and say, “Mardi, me me.”
SY: Being a father really changed you?
A: The funny thing is when I did the solo show at Art Gorillas in 2009, at that time my wife was pregnant, I had no money, no job. It was a bad time in our life. She told me she was pregnant, and I was like, “What are we going to do?” We had the pregnancy test with two lines, and I’m watching the second line appear. I ask her what does two lines mean. “I’m pregnant.” I’m like, “What? Whoa!” I starting thinking about everything. If I didn’t have my dad I would not be here, neither would my baby. If we don’t have any trees, we aren’t going to have humans. Thinking about the universe and just real crazy. Okay, I have to do a show. One show before she is born in September. I talked to the gallery and was like, “I must do a show before September.” I painted the trees and water.
SY:So when was the show?
A: In August.
SY: Oh, right before!
A: Pregnant tree.
SY: The baby was coming.
A: Yeah, show was in August 2009, she was born in September. I think if I’m lucky, I can sell some paintings. That show I was lucky I sold paintings along with some shirts and small paintings too. I made enough for the hospital bill and to prepare everything for the baby. Wow, lucky! If I could not sell the paintings, I don’t know where I would make that money, maybe have to talk to the parents. But I was quite lucky. After I knew my wife was pregnant, my life got better and better and better because I tried to call people and ask if there was any work or things I could help with. I talked to a lot of friends. I got some work and at that time I changed my life too. I quit smoking and drinking, so I could save money. Don’t think too much, just quit. I think life just got better, and that is why I named her Mardi. Ma means “come” and di is “good.” She comes with good things.
SY: That’s cute!
SY: Do you listen to music, or do you like it quiet when you work?
A: Sometimes quiet. I don’t have a radio in my room just a laptop and when my wife needs it, she takes it upstairs. Quiet is okay. Sometimes music is okay, chilling music.
SY: Your time as a monk really reset your mind
A:Yeah, most of the times it’s just quiet. But some of my friends first thing when starting a painting is to turn on the radio. A lot of people have to listen to music, get some good feelings. Sometimes I miss music. It’s too quiet.
SY: What’s your profession now? If someone asked you what you do, how would you respond?
A: I’m a painter.
SY: Do you parents support that choice? Do they understand you are a painter?
A: They understand now. When they look at the wall they are like, “That’s my son, my son!!!” When I studied in uni my parents didn’t have any money to give me for school. So I had to get the money from the government, and then I had to pay back that loan. The government money didn’t cover everything. Buying materials and stuff its already gone so I had to make money for food and housing. I was studying and working at the same time. They were like, you can take care of your life with art. We understand. But now when I make money, I give some to my dad.
SY: Do they still live on the farm?
A: My dad is kinda crazy now and doesn’t want to do the farm anymore because he worries that after he dies, he is going to be in hell because he catches too many fish. He kills a lot of fish and shrimp. He believes if you kill a lot of animals, your afterlife will be bad. A Thai Buddhist belief. So now he doesn’t want to do that anymore. He makes a little bit of money, enough for each month. He has a lot of dogs to take care of. He spends a lot of money on food for the dogs.
SY: So what does he do now?
A: He works as a security guard at a natural gas utility, so he doesn’t have to kill the animals any more. That makes him happy.
SY: I noticed you have an overhead projector. Do you use that for doing murals?
A: No, I just use it for the canvas. I print my drawings on transparencies. It’s good to use the projector because it saves time. I can see if there is space here or space there and adjust the composition.
SY: Where did you get the projector?
A: Klong Thom. They are very cheap, like 1,000 baht. They have a lot, but they are quite heavy.
A: I always sketch first to make sure I don’t waste time or paint.
SY: These skateboard decks are cool. Did you hand paint them?
A: Yeah, I used spray first to get a good background texture. I did six already and sold them online through Souled Out Studios. My friends John and Chris run it. Chris was like, “If you ever need money, just paint some more decks to sell. People love them.”
This deck is Indian, this one is Chinese, this one is Thai. I tried to do Asian people. Do you know about Chinese Vampires? You put the piece of paper on their forehead, and they stop. So it’s that control with the money.
SY: You always have the two color eyes. Is there a reason behind that?
A: I think that there are two sides in each person. No one is always good. No one is always bad. Sometimes you fight with yourself. If you are going to do a bad thing, you keep telling yourself, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” It’s like boxing, there is always red and blue.
A: Not really. I just like my bike. I have a mountain bike, and I guess this back pack. I can put a lot of paint in here and park the bike anywhere. Paint anywhere. I can fit thirty cans of paint in here.
SY: You have some Haruki Murakami books.
A: I like Murakami. The book about running everyday is very inspirational.
I have to wait till the baby goes to school, then I can go out during the day and paint.
SY: We saw some pieces on the main road as we got closer. Think some of your friends were up too.
A: Yeah, there is some stuff with Bon and Pie.
SY: We noticed this Thai painting. What is the story behind that?
A: I studied Thai art, and the teacher gave a project that you have to copy the details from the paintings on the wall. He said copy everything, cracks, everything. Don’t just look in the book. Go to the temple and copy. Very Thai style.
Every day Mardi has to go to the playground and talk to her friends. She has some friends here, the ducks. Everyday, “I want to go see the ducks, daddy!”
Since we met with Alexface over a year ago, he has moved into a larger studio in preparation for his upcoming solo show, The Underground Adventure 2012, at Artery Gallery in Bangkok. His opening is Friday, July 13th, 2012, and he will be teaming up with Souled Out Studios once more for some limited edition prints and sculptures. For more info on Alexface‘s solo exhibition, visit the Facebook event page.