Perfectly painted colonial-style shopfronts make up the community shopping area, a mismatch of patterned Mediterranean tiles line the floor, and talented graffiti artists from across Thailand are spraying any expanses of blank wall in sight.
One such artist is Piyasak Khiaosaard, better known by his tag “Mauy”. Inspired by the burgeoning street art scene he saw on a trip to Germany, Mauy sold his noodle shop in 2013 and began painting full time, scraping by on his limited savings. Back then, he lived to paint. Now that he’s gained notoriety, he paints to live too.
Mauy is renowned for his art in his native Chiang Mai and is making a name for himself abroad too. His vibrant works decorate walls in Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and France, and the commissions keep rolling in. To keep up with demand and increasingly challenging projects, he’s enlisted a team of eight other artists to support him as he zips around the kingdom and beyond.
For his Blue Tree project, Mauy brought along fellow northern Thai artists Ohm, Waris and Nap. I met them on a scorching Saturday morning as they put the final touches to Keep Clean The Ocean. The culmination of three days’ work – painting in the daytime, sketching ideas at night – the piece dresses up the walls and ceiling of a walkway by the freshwater lagoon and waterpark and spills over the skylight and into the Sunset Bar above.
Crescents of paint under his nails and respirator mask resting on a damp brow, Mauy walked me through the team’s labour of love.
“I’m really inspired by European artists, mainly Spanish,” says Mauy. “Street art in Spain is full of life, fun, colourful. But the detail I use is more to do with Southeast Asia.”
Mauy’s work focuses almost entirely on animals from around the world – “Animals is king” reads the tagline on his Facebook page – and he uses them to spread powerful messages about their conservation and rights as well as the wider environment.
One of his most notable and proudest pieces Give Me The Tree, in Mae Sot, sees a koala bear in pop art hues leaning as if perched on a branch, but the branches in fact make up the animal’s stomach – symbolic of how the forest and the koala are interconnected and damning of deforestation. Mauy’s work is almost an act of rebellion against urban society and a celebration of what he loves about his rural home in the north.
“I was born in the outskirts of Chiang Mai. It’s a place that was totally green. Forests, wild animals, non-hunting zones. But now it’s taken over by buildings. It’s disappointing to me,” explains Mauy. “I used to paint animals as silhouettes in the background, and you could only see them if you looked close, but now I’ve brought them to the front. I think it’s important.”
Keep Clean The Ocean depicts a giant deep-sea octopus collecting plastics from the ocean bed on one side, and a sea turtle gliding through the water as a baby dolphin hitches a ride on his shell and catches waste with a net on the other. Mauy toned the piece down to fit the family feel of Blue Tree, but it still carries an important message for the observer willing to look beyond the candied colours.
Mauy, Ohm, Waris and Nap are due back at Blue Tree later this month to take on an even bigger project by the venue’s outdoor arena. The team are busy drawing up ideas at the moment and details are sketchy, but whatever they choose, it’s bound to be big, bold and far from boring. Be sure to head over to see them in action, alongside a host of other incredible Thai artists.