At an early age, Pira Ogawa’s family sent him to Japan, where he started feeling haunted by what he calls the voices of insects inside his ears: the early stages of tinnitus, a condition that produces a ringing sensation and can lead to hearing loss.
Tinnitus may have become a roadblock, but Pira, 75, fought back and found solace through art. For over 60 years, Pira has been freehand sketching as a form of self-therapy, both for the tinnitus and his anxiety. But it wasn’t until recently that his art entered the public domain after his son secretly submitted his work for entry to a group exhibition. Earlier this year, Pira’s work was displayed at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) and River City Bangkok—his very first exhibitions.
We caught up with him to talk about working at midnight, his fondness for geometry, and how his private work became public.

Could you describe yourself in three words? 

I am hard-working, dedicated, and I give 100 percent to my work. I don’t give up easily. 

When did your passion for sketching and painting begin?

Since childhood, I’ve loved geometry. I always enjoyed joining lines and circles together [and watch them] beautifully overlap into a geometric structure. I started using tools like compasses, markers, and geometric rulers to ensure my lines were crisp. Slowly my passion for geometry turned into a drive for producing art. [Now] I pick up my marker and let my imagination take over. Sometimes I surprise myself when I look at the outcome.

Tell us about your first solo exhibition, Around the Clock.

My work was only recently shown to the world when my son and daughter-in-law secretly submitted it to this year’s Bangkok Illustration Fair. My son is also an artist and he decided to submit my work along with his. My work was selected to be a part of a group exhibition at the BACC, and then I got my first solo exhibition, Around The Clock, at River City Bangkok, which depicted my journey towards recovery. 

Until then, I’d kept my artwork within my own four walls, or sometimes I would gift a piece to a friend or my doctor. This is the first time my work has been exposed to the general public. 

What does your work routine look like?

I go to sleep at 9 or 10pm, wake up at midnight, and start my sketching because it’s quiet at that time and I’m able to concentrate. I work until dawn, have my breakfast, and then go to sleep again. It usually takes me two or three days to finish one piece.

What does art mean to you?

When I feel disturbed, depressed, or think it’s too noisy, I just take out my frustration on paper by sketching because it gives me a sense of comfort. It’s like medicine for me. When I’m able to construct designs, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I want to keep going like this because this is my passion, and it makes me happy. Art has become a form of self-therapy.

What does the future hold?

I definitely hope to participate in more exhibitions. Last week, I submitted work that will be part of an exhibition in Japan called Unknown Asia 2021, along with 10 other Thai artists. I’m excited that my work is going to be exhibited there. I was selected by two viewers who sent me a certificate of appreciation, which made me feel really proud.
All images courtesy of Pira Ogawa