Artist Portrays a Cambodia Losing Its Greenery Amid Development

As new buildings spring up throughout the city, painter Chhim Sothy sees Phnom Penh becoming a world of treeless, litter-filled streets, slowly losing the greenery, clean air and water that nurture life.

“People don’t seem to understand what urban environment or aesthetics mean: not only buildings but also parks and gardens, trees and walkways,” Chhim Sothy said. “Constructing a nice building also involves the space around it, the trees and greenery surrounding it,” he said.

“As an artist looking at this, it really bothers me. This is why I wanted to paint on this topic, “Natural Space,” as I’ve seen it from an aerial perspective,” he said.

‘Natural Space,’ the title Chhim Sothy has given to his latest series of oil paintings, is now on exhibit at the French Cultural Center in Phnom Penh through July 20.

Exuding the serenity and richness of tones that mark his more classically Cambodian works on Buddhist themes or scenes from the epic tale Reamker, the abstract paintings present nature in a swirl of colors. “Seen from a plane, the Earth is beautiful, full of colors—reds, blues, greens—it’s just incredible,” he said.

In his depiction of Kirirom Na­tional Park’s waterfalls, deep red, black and white at the top of the painting give way to blues that eventually twirl with muted yellows.

In an abstract about thunder and lightning, a grimacing face seems to emerge from a bluish white cloud set next to a whirl of blackish red, a reminder that water and fire can both be beneficial and destructive forces, Chhim Sothy explained.

In other works, the jungle swallowing up an Angkorian temple ap­pears in sandy and golden tones mixed with faded brown and red, and urban pollution is shown as a grey and black coat that barely lets other colors pierce through.

Born in January 1969 in Kandal province’s Lvea Em district, Chhim Sothy was first known as an artist who used Cambodia’s traditional methods to portray classical themes. However, after experimenting with new techniques for more than five years, he has now es­tablished himself as a contemporary stylist as well. His work selected for the Beijing’s 3rd International Art Biennale, now taking place in China, is a contemporary-style oil painting entitled “Mother’s Heart,” while his one-man show next month at the Timbi gallery in In­donesia’s Yogyakarta city—a Javan­ese classical art center—will be on classical themes.

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