Artist Abroad

 |  February 25, 2010

Laura Spector, with her long term visual arts collaborator Chadwick Gray and her fiancé Bradley Whyte, run ArtSpace, “Chiang Mai’s part time underground performance and exhibition venue,” says Spector, “where we do fundraisers, storytelling, auctions and performances with singers, songwriters, jazz musicians as well as teach art classes, both drawing and painting.”

Spector, who along with her colleagues, is from the United States, has been living in Chiang Mai since 2002, with ArtSpace opening in 2005. A post graduate in fine arts from Berkley, California, she talks about the advantages and disadvantages of being an artist abroad.

“Many of my friends who are finishing grad school are now thinking of relocating out of the country,” says Spector. “The art market in the US is not picking up any time soon whereas places like Hong Kong are simply booming; living somewhere with affordable studio spaces is also a smart move.” While Spector feels the need to travel home, or at least to Bangkok and Singapore, regularly in order to have access to art books, maintain and build upon a network of friends in the art world and stay in touch with developing art trends, theory and criticism, she feels that with today’s technology it is no longer a barrier to be physically out of the world art centres. “There are two schools of thought on this, on one hand it is important to be up to date and stay contemporary, on the other many artists just want to do their own thing anyway. For us, we find that the balance works well. When I lived and worked in New York City, I felt that popular artwork at the time – late 1990s – was no longer about beauty or skill, but about concept and ironic humour which was not in the least bit playful.

Our work simply didn’t fit into that genre and it was really oppressive for me, so it was better to get away from it all, take a step back, relearn my skills and get back to what I am good at, rather than spending all that energy racing to stay at the forefront. It is interesting because I see this happening in China now. When I first went to China it was an eye opener for me to see the levels of skills in the artist, they really knew how to paint. But now, like in the US over the past 60 years, with demand for art sky rocking, artists are spending more time pleasing buyers than focusing on their own talent. When you are chomping at the bit to make sales and get into galleries, there isn’t much room for creativity. So in a way it is almost nicer to be outside the art centres.”

Spector and Gray, however, do stay very much in touch with the art network and Spector recently participated in an art show in Singapore as well as being shortlisted twice for the Sovereign Asian Art Award (thirty shortlist from 7000 submissions, the only artist ever to be shortlisted twice). “There is something to be said about being around colleagues who are inspired by similar things, but Chadwick and I find that there is an unspoken wavelength we are still tuned to between us and our counterparts in the west. While we have not been able to build strong relationships with galleries in the west as we have here, at La Luna for instance, we do our best to stay in touch.”

Spector finds that more and more artists from the west are working abroad successfully. “A friend of ours comes to our studio for six months every year to create a body of work before he returns to San Francisco where he is a highly successful figurative artist. We are at an advantage here in terms of cost, and also I find that many expats, while enjoying the Thai lifestyle, still appreciate western art forms, more urban and city art. Most of our work here is commissioned by expatriates. This is our bread and butter, which while doesn’t develop our artistic styles, has helped us to create a name for ourselves and gives us the financial freedom to develop our personal styles. Recently we were commissioned to hand paint silk curtains for a condo in Phuket which has now led to another commission in the same building. So, while Thailand is not prime art real estate, it gives us time and space to develop a body of work.”

• Spector gives some tips to budding artists wanting to work out of Chiang Mai:

• Put your artwork online, on your own site, on blogging sites, Facebook, WorldPress, HubPages or more
• Turn your art to merchandise at and where you can upload your images and clients can order them printed onto t-shirts, mugs or caps.
• Foray into graphic design such as CD covers, logo designs.
• Teach.
• Become an online art expert. Spector has written hundreds of how-to pieces for
• Find out what awards you are eligible for and enter.

When I lived and worked in New York City, I felt that popular artwork at the time – late 1990’s – was no longer about beauty or skill, but about concept and ironic humour which was not in the least bit playful.