My Life and Times with Thawan Duchanee

Thawan was a genius on the level of Leonardo da Vinci. How would this boy from the North of Thailand become such a giant? There is little purpose in diving into lengthy analysis and theorizing, why, where, when, and it may be better to accept this diamond of a man as he was.

Rolf von Bueren with Thawan Duchanee, Thailand’s most celebrated artist and one of the foremost representatives of Thai and Asian art. He has also created murals at several overseas Thai embassies, houses and castles. In 1998 Thawan designed a golden banner to mark the 6th cycle birthday anniversary celebrations of HM the King. He has represented Thailand and Asian art at top events around the world on numerous occasions.

Thawan’s early years as an artist

Thawan Duchanee’s Horses and Spiritual Studies

This is believed to be Thawan’s only self-portrait

A comparison of Thawan Duchanee and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Sketches

Hand studies by Leonardo Da Vinci (left) and by Thawan Duchanee (right)

Horse studies by Leonardo Da Vinci (left) and by Thawan Duchanee (right)

Face studies by Leonardo Da Vinci (left) and by Thawan Duchanee (right and bottom)

Feet studies by Leonardo Da Vinci (left) and by Thawan Duchanee (right)

Thawan was certainly and nearly exclusively focused on his art and the success of his work and that his creations would be accepted. He knew his strength and never lost sight of popularizing his works. His main concentration, his mission in life was to convince the public of his art, his talent, his ability to create art!!! Extraordinary art, unique art. This may sound strong but Thawan was a rock of a personality.

Thawan at ‘Baan Dam Museum’. Thawan’s residence in Chiang Rai, known as the Black House, is also a museum and studio for art. He also set up the Thawan Duchanee Museum of Art at the UCOM Building in 2001. Thawan received the Artist of the Year gold medal from the Siam Architects’ Association and was named a Thai National Artist in 2001.

Bhutan Trip 1986 & 1996

Tibet 1985

Thawan radiated strength and this was evident in Tibet in the 1980, when Tibet had gone through the cultural revolution but was still the old Tibet (compared with today) when people followed him, seeking his blessing. Nobody knows why and how and it happened but it was his radiation which attracted followers. Equally, he was fascinated and fell for the metaphysical world of the Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism, its rituals and life. At the end, he kind of distilled with a clear mind, what was important and useful to Thawan and his art and used it.


Thawan’s trip to Tibet in 1985

Nepal Trip 1996

Rolf, Sri von Bueren with Thawan and their friends in their trip to Nepal

Cambodia Trip 1980’s

Thawan’s Trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia in the 1980’s

He broke all rules and conventions, if needed to further the course his art and show it to the world.

This concentration and ability to come back to the important points of his agenda were unique. He may have dealt with the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Francaise with important collectors, with Ambassadors, with Princes and Royaltees but all his focus was on Thawan.

I keep on chipping away on this particular ability of Thawan, but I feel that this is the main “MOTIVATOR” that drove Thawan. Beyond that, he was a loyal friend, he was endlessly curious, he was a great person but, in his life, all was subjected to one overruling aim…… “THAWAN ART” only.

He was the greatest and very few recognized that. One was Khun Boonchai Bencharongkul a genius himself and my friend, a German Count, who invited him to paint his two palace tower. These are two geniuses who recognized another genius. There were others too, but, the two I refer to, were the great patrons of Thawan and art needs patrons.

Castle Crottorf, Germany

Thawan’s largest project internationally was a 1977 commission to paint a large portion of Germany’s Crottorf castle. He took five months to complete a twin room.

Meditation Rooms comprising of the Moon and the Sun painted by Thawan Duchanee

I am writing this during the COVID downtime, and I can visualize Thawan sitting on one of our sofas and laughing. Our personal attraction was, that I made him laugh. I was fascinated by his eyes, the way, we both saw the world, looking at the same object and he saw much more.

My friend Roman Polanski was and is the best joke teller of the 20th century when there were many jokes around and I told these jokes to Thawan, who loved them. Thawan was a driven personality but laughing freed him and he enjoyed my jokes and quickly found the best Thai translation Good food was another bond and the love for beauty was a common de-nominator between us. We only exchanged glances and know what to choose. I also bought art books to him which he often specified to me to buy.

I must say, that life without Thawan is not the same. His personality was unbelievably grand and overpowering ……. and for me – “inspiring”.

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