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Art on a Huge Scale

Michael Ruffles

Oct 23, 2015

Avant-garde Canadian artist wants to promote Thai culture on his fourth giant easel weighing 12 tonnes

If Thailand was to get a 23-metre easel weighing 12 tons, where should it go? And what painting should it support? These are the questions Cameron Cross hopes to answer as he attempts to bring his international public art project to Thailand.

Having built three such easels in Kansas, Queensland and Canada, and painted 10m by 7m reproductions from Vincent van Gogh's Sunflower series, the Canadian artist is looking for space and funding to erect a fourth. But this time he is hoping to open to bring contemporary Thai artists into the fold to celebrate "local culture with international flair".

"It began as an attempt to paint the seven van Gogh Sunflower paintings in seven countries," Cross said. "But now we are really trying to explore the possibility of getting some contemporary Thai images. One of the goals is to promote contemporary Thai culture."

There is an artistic challenge in reproducing van Gogh masterpieces on such a large scale, but the task of building the easels seems closer to a construction project. The blueprint, which each of the three previous easels followed, calls for 10m-deep cement foundations. The steel structure is designed to withstand high winds and storms, with the "canvas" actually 24 sheets of plywood with two layers of fiber glass and gel coating, sanded back to apply paint of an industrial acrylic kind used on ocean vessels.

For each easel, local engineers are brought in to ensure it can cope with the different environmental conditions, from the cold of Canada to the heat of rural Australia, and now the tropics.

A fine arts graduate who spent 14 years working as a consultant with non-profit groups, Cross said the idea behind the project began when he was an arts teacher in Canada's sunflower region. The van Gogh images were chosen for their connection to Altona in Manitoba, but the easel was chosen for its universal appeal.

"It's recognized around the world -- it doesn't matter what your cultural background is," Cross said. "People are generally attracted to it."

He is looking for somewhere the easel can be seen from a distance but still be accessible for those who want to get up close. A place en route to one of the main airports would be ideal. "Ideally it will be in a green space," he said.

Public art on this scale takes time. Even when there is a backer and a location, it will take months to build.

Why Thailand? "My partner's from here, for one reason."

Cross said he had explored possibilities in Singapore and Hong Kong with no success, but he hopes that his change in approach from van Gogh to more localized artworks will gain traction.

Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons and the lesser-known African-American artist Kara Walker -- whose sphinx-like 30-tonne sugar woman titled A Subtlety built in a since-demolished factory spoke volumes about slavery - are among Cross's idols.

He admires Ai's blend of politics and social issues, and the way he has been able to speak less and make his viewers think and talk more. Koons, although very different, similarly provokes reactions.

"Art is about the conversation," Cross said. "The work of art is nothing in itself."

For now, however, the giant easel is only a proposal with an estimated price tag of 7.5 million baht.

"I'm very optimistic, I think it's going to resonate with the right organization," Cross said. "When it hits, it will hit big time."

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