Artist Renders the Phnom Penh Vendors’ Work-a-Day Struggles

In his series “Walking Markets” on exhibit at Java Cafe, painter Suos Sodavy depicts a theme as old as Cambodia itself.

Their clothes or wares may have changed, but street vendors would have been as familiar figures in the country’s cities 1,000 years ago as they are today.

Mr Sodavy has showed them as timeless, barely distinct in a burgundy mist.

“If we close our eyes and turn our faces to the sun, we see many colors. So it is in my imagination: like the color red. We can see many colors in red, from dark to pale,” the 55-year-old artist explained.

Mr Sodavy may have portrayed the vendors in dreamlike images—all muted tones of red, brown and yellow—but this is not meant to idealize their trade.

“My idea was to paint human beings’ real life: Vendors who sell on the street every day…who work hard to feed themselves,” he said in an interview.

And he did not paint them as anonymous characters but collected each of their stories.

In one painting, a young woman wearing a hat is shown carrying a small bag, the silhouette of a bus surrounded by a crowd in the distance. Sketched in subtle red, brown, yellow and white, the woman is on her way to sell mangoes to hungry travelers in order to pay for her sister’s school fees, Mr Sodavy writes in his artist statement.

Another painting shows two girls, one carrying a flat basket of fresh fruit on her head, the other holding a bag. They sell on the street from morning to night, he writes.

There is also a roasted-peanut seller balancing her basket on her hip, painted in shades of red with a krama around her head against a light purple and white background with burnished-gold highlights.

For this series, Mr Sodavy combined acrylic and tempera. One of the oldest materials in painting, tempera is created by mixing color pigments with egg yolk. Using rubbery acrylic paint along with tempera creates bright and distinctive colors while producing a matte finish, he explained.

Mr Sodavy is a teacher and the deputy director for plastic arts and handicraft at the Royal University of Fine Arts. In 1985, he went to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, returning in 1994 with a master’s degree. His work has been exhibited in several countries in Europe and Asia.

The exhibition will run through Oct 10.

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