“Chiang Mai has a strong tradition of arts and crafts,” says Lili Tan, a Singaporean painter who fell under Chiang Mai’s spell and relocated rather quickly after having a solo exhibition here. “Artists here are open and accepting of people from different backgrounds,” says Tan. Given Chiang Mai’s compact urban center, Tan has taken to walking everywhere, which is no easy feat given the lack of sidewalks. “A few years ago, I came upon street murals in an open car park and was drawn to the colorful work and interesting subjects. As someone who enjoys painting murals, I stopped to admire them and take photos,” she says. She posts her photos on Instagram where she has built quite a following. She describes her own work as whimsical, dream-like musings and adds, “Street art has helped me to loosen up in my work and has helped me to be more confident in expressing what I want to say without overthinking it.”
Chiang Mai’s street art scene has blossomed over the past two years. On the whole, the artists here are considerate of where they choose to paint. Private property, historical sites and temple walls are generally off-limits. There is also very little gratuitous graffiti, and instead the imagery takes on vibrant fantasy motifs. “They enliven and add color to public spaces,” says Tan, “and they bring a smile to your face when you walk past.” While most of the street art is done by a handful of locals with alias’, since yes, it’s technically illegal, some international names such as Alex Face have also left their mark. “Street art adds visual texture to the urban landscape, encouraging people to pause for a while and take notice, to create a small connection with your surroundings. It can also transform neglected spaces into something interesting and positive,” says Tan.