Studio Visit

Vipoo Srivilasa

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
5th of July 2013
 Ceramicist Vipoo Srivilasa in his St Kilda studio.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
Vipoo's recent works, created for his upcoming show, 'How to Make a Million Before Dinner' at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane, which opens next week.  This particular piece, entitled 'Be Yourself' is a self portrait of Vipoo with his two much loved cats! Photo - Eve Wilson.
Vipoo's recent works, created for his upcoming show, 'How to Make a Million Before Dinner' at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane, which opens next week. Photo - Eve Wilson.
Right - 'Passion' , created for Vipoo's upcoming show at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
When researching potential interview candidates, talent always comes first around here, but I have to say - likeability and a good sense of humour comes a very close second!  Today's interviewee, Melbourne ceramicist Vipoo Srivilasa has all these fine attributes in  equal measures...  not to mention an unrivalled knowlege of Melbourne's best and most authentic Thai food! (Food lovers, make sure you read right to the bottom for his top tips - we couldn't bring ourselves to edit it too much, this is gold!). Vipoo is such a joyful, generous and entertaining character - during our visit, whilst cheerfully chatting about his practice, he served Eve and I hot oolong tea from a thermos flask, and excitedly presented us with two delicious slices of cake from his favourite new local bakery.  He also gave us (each!) a loaf of bread and sweet handcrafted vessel as parting gifts!  SO lovely. Vipoo moved to Australia from Thailand in 1997 to undertake a Masters in Fine Art and Design.  After meeting his partner in Melbourne, he settled here to pursue his practice.  Vipoo has since gone on to receive wide recognition for his meticulously crafted contemporary ceramic artworks - a mix of figurative and decorative pieces, usually taking the form of painted vessels, figurines and sculptures. Vipoo's work is highly collectible, and has been exhibited widely throughout Australia and internationally in high profile galleries including The Saatchi Gallery in London.  His work also features in Australian public collections including Art Bank Australia, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, The Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.  Vipoo regularly participates in international residencies to further his practice - his travel plans this year include a big trip to Canada for a residency, a trip to Korea where he has been invited to represent Australia at the The Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale - and finally, a trip to Japan to work with a porcelain factory in Arita! But before all that - Vipoo has two excellent solo shows coming up in Brisbane and Sydney well worth checking out to see his exquisite work in person!  His highly anticipated solo show, How to Make A Million Before Dinner opens at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane next week.  For this show Vipoo has created a series of twelve highly detailed porcelain figurines, which together convey Vipoo's own tongue-in-cheek 'twelve step program to success'!   Next month, Sydneysiders can also catch his work in a show entitled Red Room at Maunsell Wickes Gallery in Sydney. Vipoo also has an open studio weekend planned at his St Kilda studio in mid August, and is running a spoon making workshop (GENIOUSLY entitled 'Spooning with Vipoo Srivilasa'!) on August 11th as part of Craft Victoria's Craft Cubed Festival.  Man, I thought I was busy!  To keep up with all this travel and general creative madness, you can follow Vipoo on instagram - he is quite prolific! How to Make A Million Before Dinner by Vipoo Srivilasa From July 9th to July 27th 2013 Edwina Corlette Gallery 2/55 Brunswick Street New Farm, QLD
Tell us a little bit about your background – did you always want to be a ceramicist?  What did you study, and what led you to what you’re doing now?
My first ceramic experience was at the College of Fine Arts in Thailand. It was not love at first sight, but as time went on, I slowly grew to love ceramics. I like clay because it is a versatile medium to create art. I also love the idea of turning a humble material into something fabulous and beautiful! I like working with my hands, and clay is the medium that best works well with hands. The excitement of opening the kiln is a big attraction, and after many years of working with clay, I still get excited every time I open the kiln. I also like painting and drawing. I have tried painting on canvas a few times but some how I always end up painting on clay! Currently I enjoy creating work that interacts with audiences or involves the community. I love experimenting, using clay as an interactive medium and developing my work into relational art. I’m also beginning to expand my practice by incorporating other art forms and media into my ceramic work.
What can we expect to see in your new exhibition 'How to Make A Million Before Dinner' at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane? What has inspired this body of work?
Fun and fabulous sculptures! My new series of work explores my obsession with 'success', loaded with the ambiguity of what success means and how one might achieve it. I have created a series of twelve porcelain figurines. They are coloured blue and white with gold highlights. Each one depicts a single, human individual, without sex or facial features, standing or sitting, and in one instance riding on the back of a mythical monster called the Hydra Turtle. Running up behind the figures are small plants, branches, shells and other insignia. Some figures are encrusted with tiny flowers, while others are detailed with thought bubbles, tattoos, a camera, books, and in the case of my self portrait, two cats curled on my shoulder! The twelve figurines represent a 12-step program to success I have constructed. Each step is personified by a famous work of art. Part of the fun of this work is in deciphering the tiny clues that I inscribe and leave on the figures. I hope that a curious viewer will linger and look closely for these markings.
'On Top of Everything' - another incredible work for Vipoo's show this month. Amazing detail!  Photo - Eve Wilson.
How would you describe your design aesthetic, and what influences your work?
A friend of mine once described my work as 'a playful blend of historical figurative and decorative art practices, with a healthy dose of contemporary culture', which I think describes my work really well. My works have a strong sense of fun as well as beauty. I used to make bright colourful work, but not anymore. I am currently obsessed with blue and white porcelain. I use this style as a reference to the export of ‘Blue and White’ porcelain from China to Europe. This is also a reference to my own personal migration from Thailand to Australia, from east to west. Not to mention that blue and white porcelain is just beautiful!
Details from Vipoo's studio pinboard.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
You’re originally from Thailand, though you’ve been in Australia a long time – does your cultural background influence your work?
I came to Australia to study my masters degree. During that time I met my partner and now 16 years later, I call Australia home! Both Thai and Australian culture really influence my work.  Many of the themes I work with draw on my bicultural experiences, and reference my place between the two worlds. However, nowadays, I find it is hard to tell which culture is which in my work, as both cultures merge nicely together in me. The boundary is a blur.
What processes are involved in the creation of your pieces? Do you work alone, collaborate or outsource any significant aspects of your practice?
Most of my great ideas come while I am making work in studio. Ideas often pop into my head then! I think this is because outside of the studio, I constantly feed my brain with images and thoughts everyday. When I concentrate on my work, my brain settles down and is relaxed and free. Then all of the sudden everything just falls into place. I practice meditation every morning so this also helps to focus! When I start a new series, I first set up a theme or issue, which I then set about researching. After that I do lots of sketching and more research. Once I have about 5-6 sketches that I am happy with, I start making work. For my current body of work I use porcelain clay, which is made in Australia and produces a cool white colour after it is fired. This white surface is a good backdrop for the blue patterns I paint on. The blue come from cobalt oxide. I don’t usually glaze my work, as I want to play with different surface textures – both matte and glossy. The matte surface is created by the bare ceramic body (with no glaze). When my work is left unglazed I feel it is differentiated from the traditionally glazed blue and white porcelain. I build a couple of pieces at a time. Working on one while another is drying is a good idea. If made too quickly, the piece can collapse, as it is too wet and soft. I share a studio with two artists but I have my own little room in the studio. Our studio is a 1940's factory building in St Kilda. As it is quite close to the city, I often have visitors. This is very good as I get to meet people all the time! A lot of my projects collaborate with communities, which I really enjoy. I love working with people. I outsource my mould-making to someone else as I do not like working with plaster. Sometimes I go to Jingdezhen, China, a world capital of porcelain. There I work with local artisans. Working in China allows me to achieve a result that I would never be able to achieve if I worked alone. There is just not enough time, energy and knowledge. It teaches me the art of delegation!
What does a typical day in the life of Vipoo Srivilasa involve?
My typical day is a bit more domestic and not as creative as you might expect, but here it is: • 6.30am, I am usually woken up by my two Burmese cats; no need for an alarm clock. They demand their hugs and kisses. After they’re satisfied I get up. • 6.45 am, I meditate for 25-30 minutes. Sometimes one of my cat sits with me. I do not know if she meditates or not, but she sits very still! Then I have breakfast and make lunch for my partner. If I have enough time, I quickly check my emails on my desktop. If I do not have time, I check it on my iPhone! There's always something exciting happening while I've been asleep. • 8.00am, Drop my partner at work. • 9.00 am, Arrive at studio, where I drink hot Oolong tea while I write down what needs to be done for the day. Then I choose the top 5 on my list as priorities for the day. • 9.15 am, Start working. • 11.30am, Lunch break. I like to have lunch early because it gives me more time to work continually in the afternoon. For lunch I either walk to a cafe nearby or eat homemade lunch. In summer I like to go out for lunch and if I feel like I had a great morning I reward myself with a virgin mojito! • 12.30pm, Back to work again. • 3.30pm, After I finish up my studio work I go home to work on the computer or do some grocery shopping. Being an artist, I am surprised that I spend almost half of my time working on the computer! There is always so much paper work to do. • 4.30pm, Pick up my partner from work. • 5.00pm, Cook dinner, but if I am lazy I order woodfire pizza! • 6.30pm, Onto the computer again! Often I stay on for a few hours. • 9.30pm, Play session with the cats. They LOOOVEEEE this time! • 10.00pm, Bed time. This is how a typical day goes maybe 2-3 days a week. Despite this strict schedule, I check email, Facebook and Instagram every 15 minutes!
Vipoo in the studio. Photo - Eve Wilson.
Which local ceramicists, artists and other creative are you loving at the moment?
The list is endless. I am so glad this question is limited to 'at the moment' as this makes it easier for me! Stephen Benwell – We share the same studio. He is kind of my mentor, and a very good friend. He has a very clever way of working with images and colour, as well as integrating them into 3D form. His thoughts are also very wild and deep. Full of knowledge on art history. He can articulate difficult concepts and make them easy to understand. He is a great artist! Kirsten Coelho – Kirsten’s ceramic work is exquisite! It is so peaceful just to look at. Her ceramics are a great example of perfectionism and minimalism, yet still have a warmth to them. Kirsten has great knowledge of forms, and has developed her white satin glaze to match it. Her style is strong and unique. I love her work. Justin Williams – A painter whose work I am falling in love with at the moment. I love the way his work looks so loose and naive. His works are colourful and beautiful but when you look at them closely kind of scary! This perfect contrast draws me to his work. Not to mention he also works with ceramics. Ramona Barry and Beck Jobson from HandMadeLife – This duo has been promoting all handmade ideas for almost eight years. They are really committed to what they love, and highlight handmade objects to the mainstream. They are both makers in their own right as well.
Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you're in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
Facebook posts – Often my peers/friends post interesting stories or ideas which spark new ideas for me. When I like a post, I turn to Google image search as it’s a good way to see more of the subject I am interested in. Blogs – I like art blogs. They keep me updated with what is going on in the art world and give me a sense of where my work belongs in an international context. As far as ceramic blogs go, I like Musing About Mud as it is full of great information about ceramics. I also love reading blogs which feature artist interviews and studio visits, such as The Design Files! I also read 'From the Studio of..' from Saatchi Online. Podcasts – I used to listen to Dharma talks while I worked. I also listen to soundtracks of Thai traditional performance when I paint as it sets the mood for me. However, since I discovered audio books last year, I hardly listen to anything else. But now I have discovered podcasts, so audio books are a thing of the past! My favourite podcast right now is Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, a podcast that interviews ceramic artists. Good Life Project also features a lot of inspirational stories. Conversation – Great conversations or discussions over a fabulous meal and sugar drinks (I do not drink alcohol as it makes me drunk, so I get hyped up on sugar instead!), always generate lots of good ideas for me. I have found the yummier the food, the better the ideas! Day Dream – Just stop everything and dream. Dream BIG too!
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
There are many, but I have three particular ones that I am really proud of. The first was when I had my first solo exhibition in Bangkok, and I dedicated the show to the biggest all time fan of my work, my Mum. Seeing her face when she read the catalogue and saw the message was a real achievement. The second was when my partner came to my exhibition opening and he said he loved the show. The third was when I did a dinner project for Roop-Rote-Ruang called Taste Touch Tell in Sydney a few years ago. I hosted a series of dinner parties at various private residences in Sydney. At the dinner parties, I presented a new ceramic dinner set (105 pieces) on a coral reef theme. The work unfolded as the meal (cooked by me) was consumed. The project emphasised the role of ceramics in sensory experience and embraced the Buddhist concept of ‘Ayatana’, the six channels of awareness. Guests' sight, taste, smell, hearing, touch and mindfulness were engaged as the ceramic story was revealed. The project set me free from my traditional ceramic sculpture work allowing me to use ceramics as a medium to connect and engage with people and community. It has changed the way I work. The dinner project lead to Thai Na Town – Little Oz, my biggest project to date.
What would be your dream creative project?
My dream project would be one that enabled a large group of people to see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel my multi-cultural experience through ceramics, food, flowers and music. I am interested in creating opportunities for sharing between complete strangers. I have been thinking of this project for the last couple of years, but have still not quite got it right, would welcome anyone keen to collaborate with me on this!
Vipoo sketches out a new design on one of his ceramic plates.   Photo - Eve Wilson.
What are you looking forward to?
Many things! The second half of this year is quite packed for me. Firstly I'm looking forward to my two solo shows - How to Make A Million Before Dinner at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane, opening this month, and Red Room at Maunsell Wickes Gallery in Sydney, opening in August. I am participating in an open studio weekend in mid August when I will open my studio for the public to visit, this will the first time this has happened in the past 10 years! Then I have a big trip to Canada for a residency, followed by a Korea trip where I have been invited to represent Australia at the The Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, and to be a mentor for three emerging artists there. Then I go to Japan where I will be working with a porcelain factory in Arita. I am also looking forward to opening my online shop where I will introduce and share the work of artists who I meet during my travels. I am also soon starting an online workshop course in which I will teach and demonstrate my techniques. Then I plan to spend a summer holiday building a cat run around my house. Phew!

Melbourne Questions

Your favorite Melbourne neighborhood and why?
St Kilda is my favourite neighborhood mainly because my studio is there, so I know the place quite well. There are many nice cafes where I can go for lunch within a 10 minute walk from my studio. One of them makes a really good virgin mojito – great for a hot summer day! There is also a fabulous artisan bread shop on St Kilda Road called Baker's Larder Bakery  where I shop for my bread. They make the best ginger and fig sourdough! It’s so good for breakfast. Their Earl Grey and Lavender cake is also very delicious and not too sweet. Recently, I discovered a Thai/Mexican cafe on Carlisle Street called BaBa Lovey where they make good cashew nut stir fry with battered chicken.
What are your favourite fossicking spots to buy the tools of your trade?
I buy my clay at Clayworks in Dandenong, and my glaze materials at Northcote Pottery in Brunswick East. I also buy some cool art supplies from Zart, Box Hill. They stock many great fun products that I enjoy getting my hands on. If you read the whole interview, you will find my secret place where I get my special tools!
What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?
Pad See-Ew (literally 'soy sauce stir-fry'), a dish which contains flat rice noodles pan-fried with chicken, Chinese broccoli, egg and soy sauce. It is my comfort food! The best Pad See-Ew in town is at Ratee Thai Wok Bar in Port Phillip Arcade. I also like their Chilli Chicken with fried rice for lunch as well. Next door to Ratee Thai is a great cake decorating shop called Cake Deco where I often go to buy my secret ceramic tools!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Saturday morning is a very exciting time because I get to go to studio again! I love being in my studio. However sometimes I will take my cats to a small park around the corner for a walk. One day I hope to take them to my studio so they can stay with me there. At the moment though it is a bit hard as they still young and like to jump around, not a great combo for a ceramic studio!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
A long answer for this question. Stay with me, it’s worth it! Springvale Market – I go there for fresh food and vegetables, the kind that are not often available in the mainstream supermarket. I also go there for great Thai meals. There is a little area around St Johns Ave and Queens Ave where a few fantastic Thai eateries are located. A couple of Thai grocery shops where I buy all things Thai are also nearby. I often go there for lunch or I take friends there for an authentic Thai dinner, as the food is still true to its taste, as it has not been touched by 'fusion food' influences yet. The food is simple but delicious. Most of the dishes are $8.00 to $15.00. Two of my favourite places here are - Me Dee Thai Restaurant (1/1-3 St Johns Ave, Springvale) – I often come here for lunch as they have a very special traditional Thai dish that I have not seen anywhere else in Melbourne. It is Khao khluk kapi (fried rice with shrimp paste). The rice is fried with shrimp paste and complimented by sweet pork, sour mango, fresh chillies, omelette, shallots and crunchy fried dry shrimp. This dish is packed with flavour – sweet, salty, spicy and sour – and may be pungent if you are not familiar with shrimp paste. It is served with egg tofu soup. Me Dee also often have Thai nibbles to take away such as deep-fried sliced banana, cassava chunks in syrup and raw mango with a sachet of salt, sugar and chilli. Kao Gang (38 Queens Ave, Springvale) – I come here for dinner. I have 3 favourite dishes - • Soup Nor Mai (spicy bamboo shoot salad), an Eastern Thai food that I love and which is hard to find in Melbourne. You may find it somewhere else but it is not as good as the one here! The dish consists of bamboo shoot, chilli, mint, lime, fish sauce and finished off with ground roasted sticky rice. It is made with a Thai mortar & pestle. • Pla Rod Ded (deep fried bream with spicy tamarind sauce). This dish is so good that I can eat the whole fish by myself. The fish is deep fried so it is very crispy. It comes with spicy, sour and salty tamarind sauce, topped with Thai herbs and cashew nut. It goes well with Thai Jasmine rice. • Khao Kha Moo (stewed pork leg on rice) – This dish is hard to get if you come for dinner as it often sold out by lunchtime! The pork is stewed with garlic, soy sauce, five spices powder and coriander roots, until the meat is soft and comes off the bone. The meat is arranged on top of Thai Jasmine rice and served with pickled vegetables, a boiled egg and a vinegar and chilli dipping sauce. Yummmm!
Handpainted urns by Vipoo. (I wish this pic showed  a sense of the scale, they're quite enormous!).  Photo - Eve Wilson.

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