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Artist Ta Byrne is being recognised as a positive addition to the island of Koh Samui and is thrilled by it. She tells us that she once thought it would be easier for her to walk on the moon than become an artist.
“People that knew me before I became an artist have watched my progression and understand how hard I have worked”.
It isn't easy to make a living from art, and it has taken Ta a long time to build her reputation and confidence. “I knew that from a very early age that this is where I wanted to be. It's been a labour of love”.
Does the island of Koh Samui inspire any of your work?
Absolutely! How could it not?
Each morning, I wake up and have a coffee and take in my inspiration for the day. Beautiful jungle-scapes surround us, and the colours of the sky are forever changing. Gary and I take our dogs for a walk on the local beach every morning and talk about our day ahead.
Although I am not a landscape artist, I love being surrounded by nature and capturing the colours that I see in the skies, the turquoise waters of the Gulf and the golden sands of the beach.
My studio is open on two sides and looks over our verdant gardens. We've planted many trees, bushes and plants, and it's a joy to work in. Butterflies and bees are my daily companions. I'm fortunate that I can work from home and have such a beautiful island on my doorstep.
We have read about your upbringing, working in sweatshops etc., how does your history inspire you?
I grew up in a traditional rice farming family in a rural area just outside Bangkok. We all led a really simple life and lived in traditional wooden huts. I didn't receive an education; I was busy providing my family income on their farm from 12 years old. At night, I'd draw under dimmed paraffin lamps. Any spare money I had, I would spend on paper and pencils.
When I hit my teenage years, I moved to Bangkok alone and worked in a sweatshop. At the time, it was a dream job, I was with my sister, and we were in air conditioning. It was much better than working in the rice fields in the blazing sun.
My life changed when I stumbled across a small muddled art studio and a somewhat eccentric street artist. He invited me into his chaotic world of colour and the heady scent of turpentine. I'd endlessly watch him paint vibrant whorls of colour that formed unknown civilisations and cities. My imagination was captivated by these new worlds, canvases, paints, and brushes. I was hooked and knew more than anything else that I wanted to be an artist.
You'll see in my paintings much inspiration is drawn from my past. The Egg collection is a play on my childhood memories. My mother would prepare a daily lunch box for me to take to school as there were no cooking facilities. When the lunch bell rang, we would all sit on the floor together and eat our lunch. Almost every other day, mum would prepare for me a Thai speciality of a fried egg on rice. The other kids would relentlessly tease me and say, "Ta! fried egg again? You will begin to start looking like a fried egg soon!". It's these comments that have stayed with me forever. Through art, I can weave my childhood musings and memories into my paintings in a playful way. I used to plead with my sister to have something different, but we had a rice farm, many chickens and many eggs, so it was always fried egg on rice!
How did it feel to sell your first piece?
I sold my first painting in the gallery that we opened in Samui. I was incredibly excited, but deep down, I thought we were a little mad about opening the shop in the first place! At that time, I was very happy, but my confidence levels were really low. I didn't believe I could be an artist and make financial success from it.
In the year that we owned the gallery, Gary and I learnt so much about the art world and people. We decided to relocate to the mainland and live in rural Khanom. We intended to sell my art online. The first major problem was we didn't know where to start; it was a steep learning curve!
ArtFinder had just launched, and they were looking for artists, and I was invited to join their platform. I also applied to exhibit in the online Saatchi Art Gallery; I was accepted.
One morning, I woke to a very excited Gary telling me that I'd sold a painting with Saatchi Art for almost $1000, and it was being shipped to London. I was ecstatic! It's a good job that we lived in rural Khanom and had no neighbours. I was jumping up and down with sheer joy and happiness. It was only then that I really started to believe.
Which artists inspire you?
When I was a child, I didn't have access to any television, and I lacked education. My love for other artists came much later in life. I hungrily read about Claude Monet and his use of colour, his expressiveness, detail and the softness of his beautiful paintings. I love the way Vincent van Gogh has a bold use of colour. I think I'm a little impulsive like him. Lowry is incredible; he created his art using just five colours!
Lately, I've started to find inspiration in Salvador Dali's work and think my own work is becoming more surreal as a result.
How do you see the art scene in Thailand now and in the future?
I'm so happy that Gary and I decided to sell art online. Tourism is Koh Samui's stable income. Currently, no international tourists are arriving, so not only have hotels, bars and restaurants boarded up their doors, art studios and galleries are closing too. It's heartbreaking. We have many talented artists here on the island. Although they are struggling now, I do not doubt that when the pandemic is over, they will bounce back brighter than before.
And how about the current global situation, has this come through in any of your art?
The pandemic has saddened us as a family tremendously. My heart goes out to those who are affected by this devastating virus.
I desperately want to retain some humour in my work and to make people smile. With this in mind, I painted 'Going, going, gone!' a painting of an auctioneer selling a toilet roll to the highest bidder. I'm sure we all remember those times of madness when people were buying toilet rolls in bulk! 'Steak and chips' also had a lot of interest. I've also created art and painted canvases bearing reference to social distancing and vaccinations.
What would be your advice for other artists who might be struggling to juggle work life and painting balance?
There is no doubt that selling online is timeconsuming, particularly when you sell around the world in various time zones. It's a 24/7 job. At least in a gallery, you can shut up shop and go home to rest. Buyers expect an immediate response, so emails have to be responded to quickly.
I'm extremely lucky that my husband helps me with the administration so that I can concentrate on my art. A fellow artist from the UK paints all day and then tackles admin in the evening. It makes it a very long day for him.
My advice would be to believe in yourself and just keep painting. Build your reputation and keep trying different avenues. The quicker your art is seen, the quicker it is sold. If you can, employ a studio manager, they can keep on top of all of the sales and administrative duties, and you can paint!
Have you had important changes/breakthroughs in your career?
I once said it would be easier for me to walk on the moon than become an artist. Perhaps I was wrong! I have sent my work to over 53 counties and am the best selling artist on Singulart and ArtFinder platforms.
When we can travel again, I'd love nothing more than to accept the various invitations to exhibit my work. I have had so many offers around the world, it's exciting. Some of my work is about to be exhibited in an art gallery in the UK.
Serendipity, Gary and a cheeky little sketch have brought all of my dreams to fruition. I can now proudly look down from the moon. It's not a bad achievement for a girl who left school at 12 to work in the rice fields of Thailand.
And finally, what do you enjoy about life on Koh Samui?
Gary, my children and I all moved back to Samui a couple of years ago. It's such a beautiful place to live. It's an incredibly vibrant island, and I love the choice of street food and the restaurants that it has to offer. The island is well known as 'coconut island'. I love walking along the palm-fringed beaches each morning with our dogs.