ELIZABETH Romhild is a Danish-born painter, sculptor and designer who has lived and worked in Bangkok since 1988. She spoke about her art and new business at her studio apartment on the top floor of a condominium on Sukhumvit Soi 4. The lofty sanctuary provides the tranquility Elizabeth needs to concentrate and find inspiration, as well as space to display her extensive portfolio of distinctive and colourful paintings, sculptures and porcelain.
Many more of her works are lovingly sheltered in the homes of private collectors throughout the world. Always searching for fresh artistic directions, Elizabeth recently turned to designing fine porcelain dinnerware. She’s also keeping busy with the launch of her newly designed porcelain in four premium Bangkok retail outlets.
Elizabeth describes herself as a self-taught artist whose talents were nurtured by immersing herself in the diverse cultures and places around her. Born in Denmark in 1960 to an Armenian-Iranian father and Danish mother, she spent her childhood in Iran. As an adult she settled in Saudi Arabia, America and Indonesia before making Thailand her adoptive home almost three decades ago. She began drawing at an early age, but says it was not until she reached the age of 26 that she considers herself “born as an artist.” That’s when she picked up a brush and began to pour her spirit onto canvas.
“The journey started with my first watercolour exhibition in May 1986. These were realistic paintings that captured the rust and mildew textures of the slums. Later I was more inspired by nature, especially seascapes. My first oil paintings were exhibited in August 1988 at a well-known gallery in Jakarta, right before my husband Peter and I left for Thailand.”
From the outset of her artistic career her vibrant use of colours has drawn high praise. “Colour pervades my imagination no matter how hard I may try to mute my palette. Over time my art has become bolder and at the same time simpler,” said Elizabeth.
“In the portrayals of women that I am best known for, I have moved toward an ever more primitive style, with the feminine shapes bending and flowing as the faces became more totemic.”
“I would describe my style as modern figurative and distinctly colourful. My works are quite recognisable. I play along a fine line of sensuality and eroticism, without getting sexual. I like to capture the deeper and more hidden emotions of eroticism, which are not always connected to sexuality,” Elizabeth said. “I always listen to my heart for inspiration. It may not be intentional, but artists often seem to be painting their own reflections.”
It was Didier Hamel, the Director and Curator of Duta Fine Arts Foundation in Jakarta, who “discovered” Elizabeth. He wrote about the experience in an essay titled “Elizabeth Romhild – ‘Oriental Sensuality’: “I remember very well when this young lady came by the Duta Gallery one sunny afternoon back in 1988 with some works to show me. Most of these depicted landscapes, some done in Jakarta and its surroundings, and others in Bali. These were in fact her first oil paintings.
“It is always an embarrassing moment for a curator to give a frank and honest appraisal to an artist at such an early and tender stage. In these paintings there were some positive aspects and others not so appealing. Elizabeth and I decided immediately to work together and analyze each painting in detail.
“We selected the best paintings, which were mostly seascapes, and decided to do her first solo exhibition in August 1988. The paintings exhibited gave a good feeling but were not yet truly very exciting. But the central and most important point is that this exhibition was the first real step of her artistic career.
“When Elizabeth moved to Thailand she regularly sent me photos of her new paintings, and I was delightfully surprised: she had left behind her landscapes and gone onward to create her own visions. A true artist gradually emerged! It was remarkable that Elizabeth almost immediately came to be in true communion with her work. Around 1998 her compositions really reached their zenith.
“For me, these compositions fully express the vision of an oriental dream…What I personally find most interesting in her work is the blending of sensibility conveyed with spontaneity, a real feeling of passion appealing to a kind of spiritual eroticism. The stunning colours and shapes successfully transmit an authentic and warm sensuality.”
Finding inspiration in Thailand
“My husband Peter’s company transferred him to Thailand in October 1988,” said Elizabeth. “After our two children were born and Peter started a new job here we decided to stay. We’ve lived more than 30 years in Southeast Asia now, and I have been working and developing my art the whole time.”
Elizabeth speaks Armenian, Danish, English and Farsi fluently, but said her Thai is still somewhat “basic.” She remarked that Thailand can be challenging for foreigners, and even many long-time expats feel that they never really belong. “But my children were born here and I feel this is my home. And my work has been very well accepted also in the local art scene, which I am very happy about.
“Bangkok is a vibrant city that has inspired many artists. The Thai culture is very rich, and even though Thailand is not the subject of my art I think being here for twenty-eight years has unconsciously influenced my work. I was delighted when I was invited to show a couple of my works at an exhibition called ‘Thai Trends from Localism to Internationalism’ at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. For me this meant that I was accepted in the Thai art scene.
“Some of my paintings and sculptures have been auctioned for various charity causes, and I had the great honour to meet Her Majesty the Queen when I donated two large paintings to the Queen Sirikit Breast Cancer Centre.
“The Thai mentality has taught me to stay calm in stressful times so that I can find a balance between being a creative artist and a dedicated mother and wife in the vibrant but hectic social life of Bangkok.”
Turning to her new project, she said: “I had for some time considered putting my ideas and style to use in designing various products. Initially I was considering fabric, but then an acquaintance, who was working for Royal Copenhagen, suggested porcelain. Early last year I had the opportunity to work with Patra Porcelain in Bangkok, and after many meetings, going through all my hand-drawn designs and ensuring that the colours came out as I envisioned, we came up with the initial three series: Piano, La Boheme and Impromptu. In fact they are inspired by my portrayals of women.
“After a successful launch in Thailand the intention is to expand the portfolio and design new series. I am also looking at the international market – Japan, other parts of Asia and even the United States and Europe. I do the creative work and designs and of course the promotion as I have many connections in Thailand, whereas all the purchase, sales and administration is handled by a local distributor.”
Elizabeth’s artwork and designs will soon be on display in shops at ‘Another Story’ at EmQuartier, the ‘Living’ section in Emporium and Siam Paragon, and at ‘Maison Artinian’ at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, where fine jewellery from distinguished international Artinian jewellery house will also be available.