TRANG, Thailand: When Typhoon Mangkhut hit southern Thailand two years ago, six-year-old Winny saw it differently from most people in her country.
Her tropical cyclone was purple, like the colour of a mangosteen or “mangkhut” in the local language. Its blustery force tore through her peaceful hometown of Trang unleashing colourful chaos. Local homes in pink and white all bore the brunt of the angry storm. Torrential rains brought blue floods to the streets, where the yellow lights of lampposts shone bright.
Keziah ‘Winny’ Chumpuang captured the whole experience on canvas. Her vivid memory sharpened by rich imagination created a vibrant palette of “Typhoon Mangkhut” – an abstract acrylic painting that has recently made its way onto linen under a new business label, Keziah.
It is the latest achievement of Winny, now seven, making her one of the youngest entrepreneurs in Thailand.
In just four months since its launch last October, Keziah has already brought the Chumpuangs more than US$3,000 dollars. Its Facebook page is fast gaining followers, currently counting more than 2,500. And orders keep coming in.
“(The sale) is very good; mama doesn’t get to sleep,” Winny said with a big laugh. “Right now, we’re running out.”
Keziah is all about printed linen. What sets it apart from others is the unique patterns taken from Winny’s abstract paintings. Each tells its own story, from a tropical cyclone to a mysterious snow forest and a rainbow fishnet. Together, they offer a fascinating glimpse into her colourful life and the big imagination that defines it.
Besides painting, Winny also loves fashion. She likes posing for photos and dreams of becoming a supermodel. One day, she decided she wanted to wear her own art, not knowing her request would soon pave the way for a thriving business.
“I told mama I wanted a skirt with my painting on it. So mama looked for a factory but nobody agreed to do it. Eventually, we found the factory of Uncle Max. This is the first pattern to get printed,” she told CNA, pointing at her painting “A Snow Forest”.
The picture is her portrayal of a dark wood covered in snow – something she has never seen in real life. Probably unrecognisable by others, it shows luminescent fireflies amid thick layers of dark green trees. Some of them drop their saliva, she said, glittering red and yellow spots among blueberries and white snow.
“This is inside the mysterious Amazon forest. It snows there because this is a wintry land,” the young artist said with a big smile.
“I saw a picture of a snow forest and wanted to paint it because it doesn’t exist in Thailand. We’ve only got rain,” she added.
Besides “A Snow Forest”, Winny also had a few of her other paintings screened on linen and ended up with a lot of printed fabric at home. Not knowing what to do with it all, the family decided to sell it under the label Keziah.
The product was showcased at one of the leading international trade fairs in Thailand last year – Style Bangkok. Winny was the youngest entrepreneur to participate and all the linen featuring her artworks was sold out.
“Her art is her happiness, her love and her identity. For our family, this is the most important thing about art. We don’t focus on the business or the brand. They’re just by-products of joy and love in our family,” said her mother, Yupawan Yongpu.
ART – IDENTITY
Winny became interested in art when she was three. Her biggest inspiration was eight-year-old watercolour artist Wajana ‘Hero’ Chumpuang, her brother. He is well-known in the art circle in Trang. Some of his works have been auctioned and a few others have been on display at art events in Thailand.
Together, the siblings have created more than 1,000 artworks. Many of them are filling up their home – on the walls, different floors and easels. Yet, one can tell a clear distinction between their styles. Hero’s subjects are recognisable. Winny’s are not.
“Hero became interested in watercolour at the age of two. Winny tried it too but it wasn’t her style. Her flowers aren’t flowers and her trees aren’t trees. She likes art but just didn’t know how to begin,” their mother said.
Yupawan and her husband are both lawyers. Neither of them can paint or know much about art, let alone abstract painting. But when the couple brought their children to an art workshop a few years ago, they got to discover a hidden talent in their little girl.
It was the National Artists Tour project in Krabi, which Hero was invited to join. While her brother painted with other children, Winny played by herself on a spare canvas nearby. Her picture was colourful but unrecognisable. It depicted, according to her, the Garden of Eden, with an unusual-looking tree bearing “a special fruit that knows what is good and what is bad”.
But as it turned out, her painting won silver and Hero’s won gold.
“We were so puzzled they announced her name, ‘Keziah Chumpuang, Kindergarten 3’,” Yupawan said. Her husband, she added, went to ask one of the judging artists why their daughter won the award.
"The artist said Winny had freedom. That’s what he wanted to see in the workshop – freedom – not portraits, beautiful paintings, or by-products of some rigorous training."
And that was when Yupawan and her husband first heard about abstract art. For their young daughter, the silver medal and recognition ignited a passion in her.
“The fire in her was lit. She was so proud,” Yupawan said.
“Papa bought her paints and canvases, and she just kept painting and creating artworks that are filling up the house. She started to have her identity, transforming from a child who always walked behind Hero – the younger sister.”
‘THINK, PLAY AND CREATE’
The siblings’ artistic skills are gaining more popularity in Thailand. Many of their fans call them geniuses. But to their parents, they are simply children who have space to do what they love.
Their early paintings were not perfect. But regular practice has helped develop their skills and firm support from their parents has made them confident to express themselves.
“These two children simply have space to think, play and create,” said their father Kornkamol Chumpuang.
“We’re not experts in raising children but we know we love them. Our love makes us want to listen to them, to read into their mind and learn what they want to say, and give them space for that.”
For the Chumpuangs, time is the most valuable asset in the family. Despite their busy work schedule, the couple make sure they have the evening and weekends free for their children. They play with them, listen to their stories, and bring them to different places where they can be with nature and enjoy outdoor activities instead of video games or social media.
The result is shown in their children’s paintings. Despite their different styles, both Hero and Winny share their love for nature on the canvas.
“I like painting the sea and, sometimes, forests. I don’t like painting cities – they hurt animals,” said Hero, sitting on his new skateboard in the living room. Behind him, rows of paintings show beautiful rice fields, a wetland before sunset, blooming flowers in a garden and birds in the sky.
Nearby, Winny’s acrylic painting “Carp” was propped against an easel. There are 25 carp in the picture, she said, and they are all eating “dry human food”.
“I saw carp in a pond and wanted to paint them. They have many colours – yellow, red and black. It was night time then, so they had to turn on the white light. That’s why the water is invisible,” she said, pointing at the colourful shapes on the canvas.
For the Chumpuangs, art is a great mode of communication. Winny and Hero often tell their parents the stories behind their brushstrokes. Subjects can be as simple as a crispy pancake they got to eat or meaningful thoughts they have processed and conveyed through pictures.
“Of course, children can’t communicate as well as adults. We can write, talk and be understood. Still, children have their own way to tell society how they feel about this world or what they want to see,” their father said.
“Our children do so through artworks.”