Splashes of color are brightening the streets of Chiang Mai.
For months, bright graffiti illustrations have been seen popping up in some of the Old City’s most popular areas. Vibrant street art paintings can be seen covering many of the electrical junction boxes located throughout the trafficked areas of Chiang Mai, including the Tha Phae Gate, Thapae Road and Changklan Road.
While the paintings have been bringing a surprising artistic flair to Chiang Mai’s thoroughfares, there’s much more of a story to them.
“It’s not a commission but it’s a collaboration,” said street Jirawat “PING” Krongyu, “It’s a collaboration between graffiti artists and Provincial Electricity Authority.”
Jirawat is part of a collection of street artists called SYS or “See You Soon” that has been working with the utility.
“The idea comes from our team,” he said, “We get paid for this project but not too much money. The point of this project is to make electric boxes more beautiful.”
Jirawat explained that the PEA has had a problem with their boxes being covered with scads of stickers and paint-pen drawings. In response to the vandalism, SYS came up with the idea of making the boxes more visually appealing by covering them with single graffiti paintings.
“We thought that if each box had its own individual artwork then no one else would cover them up. So far, we have painted 24 boxes and only two have been tagged. I think it’s been good so far.”
Jirawat and his crew of five street artists paint everyday.
“The messages from our boxes are positive. We play with the electrical boxes. It’s a game, just for fun. Our artwork is not political. I have a lot I want to say about politics but in these I want to help make Chiang Mai beautiful.”
Video game imagery is a common theme for the artists.
“The imagery is based on the forms of the electrical boxes. My team thinks the electrical boxes look like big Gameboys, so we tried to create imagery around that. We have games from over 20 years ago like Mario,” Jirawat said.
When asked about how the contemporary graffiti art form was seen throughout the Chiang Mai community, Jirawat said, “Chiang Mai is an old city with an old culture so it’s not easy to make everyone like these paintings. But I think we have time to change their minds. Maybe in five or 10 years everyone in Chiang Mai will love street art. For now, it’s not for everyone but we just need some more time.”
Many visitors to Chiang Mai stop and pose next to the bright boxes for social media posts,
“I think graffiti is a conversation,” Jirawat said about the public’s interactions with his team’s artwork. “It’s a conversation for the people that walk by or drive by. People like you and I can get a message.
“For me, I think it’s good. Graffiti is the easiest way to talk about a subject. You want to talk about politics? You can. You want to talk about the environment? You can go to the street and paint. It’s easy to make a conversation with graffiti for the community and that’s exactly what we are doing.”Will Langston is a Chiang Mai based photographer and writer as well as a frequent Bangkok Herald contributor. He can be reached through his website at WillLangston.com.