The bold portraits of Vannes-based Thai contemporary painter Jiab Prachakul offer glimpses into the lives of the artist's friends, family, and role models, forming an intimate picture of the Asian diaspora.Read More
Born in Nakhon Phanom, a small town in northeast Thailand, Prachakul later moved to Bangkok, where she studied filmography at Thammasat University. She graduated with a BA in Journalism, after which she worked in the advertising industry for several years.
Prachakul moved to London in 2007. Upon seeing David Hockney Portraits (2006), a major retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, she was inspired to begin painting portraits and figurative compositions. As an artist, Prachakul is entirely self-taught.
In 2009, Prachakul moved to Berlin, where she launched her personal brand JIAB and was encouraged by peers to further explore identity and the Asian diaspora through her art practice.
Jiab Prachakul's paintings are characterised by their snapshot-like scenes and vibrant sartorial energy, and can be compared to the colourful stylised figuration of David Hockney or the urban realism of Edward Hopper. Her background in film and advertising can be observed in her keen attention to filmic devices such as directional lighting, compositional framing, and rich, saturated colour.
Often depicting candid group interactions, or individuals posing in a relaxed, unstudied manner, Prachakul conveys a shared connection and natural intimacy between herself and her sitters as diasporic Asian people—having herself lived primarily in Europe and the U.K. since leaving Thailand. In an interview with Hyperallergic, the artist states: 'I'm curious about my subjects, their life, how they move their body when I speak to them ... I try to seek their special aura, nearly like falling in love, a platonic love.'
Prachakul's early portraits were often executed on translucent transfer paper, using oil and coloured pencil in pastel tones, resulting in pale, ghostly works that possess an immediacy characteristic of life drawing. Innocent (2014) presents a self-portrait of the artist peering at the viewer through her glasses, while East Ender (2014) and Heart Headed (2014) depict portraits of unnamed subjects with black attire starkly contrasting with the delicate, pale rendering of their facial features.
In 2020, Prachakul received the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery for her work, Night Talk (2019), immediately elevating the artist's international profile. A double portrait featuring two of the artist's close friends in a Berlin bar, Night Talk memorialises the intimacy of an everyday exchange between friends. Prachakul carefully attends to every crease and fold in the figures' all-black attire, defined by high-contrast outlines, while background elements are flattened or simplified in tone—as seen in the pastel pink wall or muted grey floor.
In 2021, Prachakul presented her first U.S. solo exhibition at San Francisco's Friends Indeed Gallery, titled 14 Years—a reference to the period in which Prachakul painted before gaining wider recognition upon receiving the BP Portrait Award. Featuring eight large-scale portraits—two of which were self-portraits, with the remainder depicting the artist's friends and family—the exhibition presented a contemporary representation of the Asian diaspora as witnessed by the artist, unfolding subtle hints of personalities and moments in everyday lives through dress, spaces inhabited, and relationships shared.
3 Brothers (2020) depicts three men sharing wine in a corner of a room with a distinct checkerboard-patterned floor, one playing guitar while smiling towards the viewer. A Conversation with Apichatpong (2020) captures the artist's friend, filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, sitting alone in a restaurant with bright red interior and furniture, with multiple empty glasses revealing those who shared a table with him. Stand-by (2020) shows a stylish woman sitting cross-legged on a suitcase inside an airport, the head of the figure standing next to her cropped from the composition.
On 14 Years, Natasha Boas writes for Frieze: '... Prachakul's paintings have gained much attention for their representations of Asian identity—often less visible in contemporary art. Yet, while this focus is central to the artist's project, her desire to connect with and explore her own painterly subjectivity is equally insistent.'
Jiab Prachakul has presented in solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and U.K.
Solo exhibitions include 14 Years, Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco (2021).
Group exhibitions include Frieze No. 9 Cork Street, Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco (2022); IRL (In Real Life), Timothy Taylor, London (2021); and Mother and Child, Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco (2021).
Misong Kim | Ocula | 2022