A History of Phaiboon Suwannakudt (1925-1982)

  • John Clark University of Sydney
  • Phaptawan Suwannakudt Independent artist


The artist, Phaiboon Suwannakudt, was descended from a renegade Lao prince from Chiang Rung (Jinghong), who founded Ubon Ratchathani. Born in 1925, he was schooled in Ubon before moving to Bangkok and studying at Poh-Chang Academy of Arts with Silpa Bhirasri (Corrado Feroci) and then at Silpakorn University. He lodged at a wat with the art historian, Prayoon Uluchata (No Na Paknam), and the poet, Angkarn Kalayanapong, who became close friends. He worked as an artist, art teacher, draftsman, dance teacher and art director on movies, besides writing features, short stories and political commentary for newspapers, and painting watercolours for tourists. He was married in 1925 and helped raise seven children, but lived a nomadic life, paying little heed to money. In the late 1960s, he started painting murals at Wat Theppol in Talingchan, followed by commissions at the Montien Hotel, Dusit Thani Hotel, Phuphing Palace in Chiang Mai, and the Dusit Mahaprasat at Muang Boran (Ancient City). He was criticized for adapting the themes and methods of temple murals for commercial art. In 1975, he was diagnosed with kidney failure and died in 1982. His last commission at the Peninsula Hotel (now Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel) was completed by his daughter. Phaiboon was an outsider in the contemporary art world, but was greatly admired and loved by a broad swathe of Thai artists and art connoisseurs for his independence and tenacity. He belonged to the first generation of modern-trained Thai artists, and his works, which are a crossover between elite art and popular culture, are a record of their time.


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Art and political commentary
Phaiboon Suwannakudt, ‘Khana anukaamkaan faay jat haa thun khrongkaan phiphithaphan silp phraa sri anusorn “ajaarn silp kap luuk sit”, Krom sayaam kaan phim, BE 2727 (1984), 138-139.
Phaiboon Suwannakudt, political commentary articles under the pen name, Nai Absuttaeg. This name is derived from the word for ‘abstract’, where ab means ‘secretly’ or ‘behind the back’, and suttaeg is in dialect a crude word ‘to eat’, equivalent to ‘gobble up’. The articles were published in Pimthai daily newspaper during the early 1960s.
Phaiboon Suwannakudt, Khieuw Muu Paa [The Boar’s Tooth], in Rong Wongsawan, ed., Kanyayon Nalin, September 1969.
Phaiboon Suwannakudt, Sompoi Dok Leung (Yellow petal Sompoi) Laeng Khen: Ruam runag san samai khong Thai, Bangkok: Samnakphim Duangkamon, 1975, a short story collection, which was taken off the shelves and banned from bookshops after the Thanin Kraivichien coup of 8 October 1976.
Texts about or mentioning Phaiboon Suwannakudt
Cate, Sandra, Making merit, making art: a Thai temple in Wimbledon, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003.
Department of Fine Arts and various authors, 73 Thai artists from the Silpa Bhirasri School [Bilingual], Bangkok: CON-Tempus, 1992 [BE 2535]
Gampell, Jennifer, “Like Father, Like Sun”, Manager, 77 (May 1995), 44-46.
Hoskins, John, Ten Contemporary Thai Artists, Bangkok: Graphis, 1984.
Lisuwan, Wiboon “Phaiboon Suwannakudt: Phubutberk Ngan Jitrakam Thai Ruam Samai,” Hi Class Magazine, 1993, 10(114): 144–147.
No Na Paknam, “Phaiboon Suwannakudt”, Lok Sinlapa [Art World], 3(1), 1983, 30–40.
Srisakdi Nopparat, compiler, Anusorn ngan sop Phaiboon Suwannakudt, published and handed out at Phaiboon’s Cremation Ceremony presided over as a special occasion by HRH Princess Sirindhorn, 21 March 1983, at Wat Theppol in Talingchan. This is thought to have been compiled in a few weeks by Srisakdi from file copies at a magazine publisher. Many of Phaiboon’s texts are reliably sourced to him, but lack a more precise date or publishing site. The list below omits illustrations and some short, handwritten pieces.
Sivaporn Dardaranda, Luckana Kunavichayanont, et al., eds., Nitthassakan chalerm phrakiat Sinlapa heng Ratchakan thi 9 / Golden Jubilee Art Exhibition [Bilingual], Bangkok: Rama IX Art Museum Foundation, 1996.
Veal, Clare, “Phaiboon Suwannakudt (1925-1982)”, in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, London: Taylor and Francis, 2016.
Woodward, Hiram C, “Review of Merce Cunningham performance”, Bangkok World [precursor of Bangkok Post], 6 November 1964.
Other References
Amnaat Yensabai, Prawatsaat sinlapakam ruam samay khong Ratanakosin, itthipon khong sinlapakam tawan dok thi mi do sinlapakam thai, P.S. 2492 thung 2522 [History of Modern Art in the Ratanakosin era, The influence of Western art on Thai art from 1949-1979, Teacher’s College teaching materials], Bangkok: Krom kaan Fuk Hat Khru, BE 2524 (1981).
Anderson, Benedict, “Murder and Progress in Modern Siam”, [originally in New Left Review, No. 181, May-June, 1990] in his The Spectre of Comparisons; Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World, London: Verso, 1998.
Baker, Chris, and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A History of Thailand, second edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Baker, Chris, and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017, reviewed by Clark in Southeast of Now, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2018, 229-236.
Breazeale, Kennon, review of Paitoon Mikusol in the Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 61, No. 2, 1973, 197-200.
Clark, John, Interview with Phaptawan Suwannakudt, 6 January 1992.
Clark, John, Interviews with Lawan Daorlai, 26 January 1993 and 4 December 2000.
Clark, John, “ ‘Tradition’ in Modern Thai Art”, Southeast of Now, Vol. 4, No. 2, October 2020.
Clark, John, The Asian Modern, Singapore: National Gallery Singapore, 2021.
Fuhrmann, Arnika, Teardrops of Time: Buddhist Aesthetics in the Poetry of Angkarn Kallayanapong, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2020.
Girling, John L.S., Thailand: Society and Politics, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Iijima Akiko, “The Invention of ‘Isan’ History”, The Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 106, 2018, 171-200.
Junya Yimprasert, 60 Years of Oppression and Suppression in Thailand, Bangkok: Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand, 2011.
Karlsson, Klemens, “A place of belonging in myths and memories: the origin and early history of the imagined Tai Khuen Nation (Chiang Tung/Kyaintong Myanmar)”, Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, August 2020, 181-210.
Keyes, Charles F., “Political crisis and militant Buddhism in contemporary Thailand”, in Bradwell L. Smith, ed., Religion and Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos, and Burma, Anima Books, 1978, 147-164.
Mattani Mojdara Rutnin, Dance, Drama, and Theatre in Thailand: The Process of Development and Modernization, Tokyo: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for UNESCO & Toyo Bunko, 1993.
Ngaosyvathn, Mayoury and Pheuiphanh, Paths to Conflagration: Fifty Years of Diplomacy and Warfare in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, 1778-1828, Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1998.
Nishizaki Yoshinori, “Birds of a Feather: Anand Panayarachun, elite families and network monarchy in Thailand”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 51(1-2), 197-242.
No Na Pak Nam, Khru Khongpae & Khru Thongyu, Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1987.
No Na Pak Nam, Wat Suwannaram, (2nd ed.), Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1997.
Phaptawan Suwannakudt, unpublished recollections, 2017.
Piriya Krairiksh; Paothong Thongchua, et al, Silpakam lang P.S. 2475 / Art since 1932 [Bilingual], Bangkok: Thammasat University, Thai Khadi Research Institute, BE 2526 [1983].
Pi-Seb Theerasak Petchyingvorapong, Bantuk theep siang Phaiboon [Tape-Recorded Interviews with Phaiboon], April-May, 1982, later transcribed by Phaptawan circa 1998.
Phaiboon [Vibul, ?] Leesuwan, “Remembering Phaiboon Suwannakudt”, Year 32, Vol. 5, 21 July, BE 2528 (1985): 30 – 32, imperfect citation. ไพบูลย์ ลี้สุวรรณ. “ระลึกถึงไพบูลย์ สุวรรณกูฎ.” ปีที่ 32, ฉบับที่ 5 (21 ก.ค. 2528): 30-32.
Somboon Suksaram, Buddhism and Politics: The Political Roles, Activities and Involvement of the Thai Sangha, PhD Thesis, University of Hull, 1979.
Somboon Suwannakudt, Somkiat Suwannakudt, eds., with the assistance of Lamphun Suwannakudt, Krue Yaat Suwannakudt (The Suwannakudt Lineage), privately printed in 1998.
Thongchai Winichakul, Moments of Silence: the Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2020.
Toem Vipakpojanakit, Prawatisart Isan (History of Isan, assembled and edited by Nidthi Aeosiwong), Bangkok: Thammasat University Publishing, 4th edition, BE 2546 (1993).
Wiyada Thongmitr, Khrua In Khong’s Westernized School of Thai Painting, Thai Painting Series No.1, Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1979.
Woodward, Hiram C., email to John Clark, 20 January 2018.