She made her first sale through the Saatchi online gallery and now boasts fans and collectors across the world; significant achievements for a farmhand from the boondocks of Thailand
Ta Thimkaeo Byrne is an escape artist. But she differs from Harry Houdini in that she escaped from a life of drudgery in the rice fields of rural Thailand to find refuge in a world of imagination she depicted on paper, under paraffin lamps, after a day of toil.
In her teen years she worked in a sweatshop in Bangkok. By day she sewed shirts by hand for local markets. At night, and on weekends, she explored the kinetic capital. A chance encounter with an idiosyncratic street artist changed not only her perspective on creativity but her take on life. “I'd sit with him for hours, breathing in the sweet-smelling fumes and watching him paint. He'd create worlds I couldn't even imagine. I was hooked, and I knew more than anything else that I wanted to be an artist,” says Ta, who is based on the Thai island and tourist playground of Koh Samui.
The seeds of her future career were planted then but they did not germinate until 16 years later. By then divorced, the mother of two wound up on Koh Samui, working in the tourism trade. Another chance encounter, this time with a British man she met during a downpour when they shared a cup of coffee, inspired her to dash off a doodle on a scrap of paper that demonstrated her artistic ability.
In return, he granted her an endowment of paints, brushes, palette knives, sketch pads, canvasses and paint-thinners. It was then that she began to paint in earnest, while her future husband supplied the marketing acumen to bring her work to a large digital audience.
After notching up that first all-important sale through Saatchi Art Gallery, Ta’s work has won over fans in Dubai, Zurich, Shanghai, Paris and New York, where her paintings are on permanent exhibit in some TV-worthy, abodes of the affluent. She is so popular that many of her artworks sell before the paint is dry.
It’s easy to see the Thai aspects of her work in the bold and bright colors – these are paintings that smile and wink at you – and in some of the playful figures, but there are also hints and dashes of Chagall and Dali too.
What sparks your inspiration?
My poor husband thinks I'm terribly nosy, but I love to people watch not necessarily for the person, but their expressions and interaction with others. I think you'll notice this particularly in my Jazz and Lady In Red and Conspirators Boss and Mr Pompous collections.
How would you describe your style of painting? How has your style evolved over the years?
As time goes on, I think that I have a surreal nature like Dali. As my confidence has grown, I think my style has adapted because I am no longer worried about scaring people off. They like it! I always have fresh ideas and I find that the quirkier the picture, the faster it sells. For example, I recently painted 'The Princess of Jazz on a Horse with No Name.’ It’s very peculiar but it sold within minutes of going on sale and it’s now in France.
We understand that there is a special story behind fried eggs and rice, can you tell us about it?
Yes! You'll see in my paintings that I draw much of my inspiration 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 food. Almost every other day, mum would prepare for me a Thai specialty 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!
Do you also work on commission? If yes, are any of your clients design professionals?
I do work on commissions, yes. I'm getting more and more requests from all over the world, but particularly from Asia. I had two last night! I was approached by a designer working with an Italian vineyard and wanted me to create vibrant labels for their bottles. A gorgeous tea house in Singapore would like me to create something unique for their branding and labelling. A hospitality interior design firm also contacted me. I completed two huge paintings that now hang in the lobby of a luxury hotel in Guildford.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
Since many people are working from home, they are paying more attention to interior design and color in their living spaces. Everyone wants to feel more joy at the moment, and I'm glad that my paintings can bring color, love and a little zaniness into peoples’ lives.
Most of my work sells through various online galleries, which is ideal considering the restrictions that we face. My paintings are selling before they've had the chance to dry. I'm truly grateful that Gary's marketing experience has led us to discover this diverse platform. 2020 was a record year for me, and 2021 so far is set to be even better.
You mention you sell your paintings through online platforms. Which ones?
The most popular platforms are ArtFinder and Singulart. I have my own website as well, Art Galleryta. The Bricks and Mortar Gallery have the three exhibited paintings on their Masa-UK Art Gallery website.