Walking into a room full of David Harding’s giant portraits can take one aback, both because of the sheer strength of the images and the complex beings they reflect.
Here is not the realm of quiet, single emotions, such as joy or sadness that can be grasped when glancing at a person’s face.
Mr Harding’s portraits show individuals capable of every feeling—love and hate, kindness and cruelty—who wrestle within themselves.
“It’s what people are, really,” the artist said. “I’ve always felt that to consider the light side of human soul, you have to appreciate the darker side as well. It’s the contrast that’s important.”
Looking at his oil paintings—exhibited at Java Cafe in Phnom Penh through May 2 under the title “Minerallos”—one senses an affinity with the people on canvas, perceiving the flood of emotions with which all human beings must deal.
In one painting a young Western woman looks up, grave, her hair painted a mix of orange, red and brown. In another work, a Cambodian man, his eyes deep into their sockets, is depicted against a blue-grey and orange background, lost into a deep well of thoughts.
Mr Harding’s oil paintings give the impression of depth: “One of the things that I wanted to create with this is the sense that the image is gradually, over time, fading back into the texture, like fading back into the earth,” he said.
To accomplish this, the artist—who is currently in charge of technical assistance and handles drug programs for Friends International—used a four-step painting process. He first prepared his canvas with one base color, giving it texture with various methods such as mixing sand with oil paint. He next created lowlights in dark colors; then painted the portrait; and completed the works with highlights in pale colors or white.
“The whole concept of the body of the work is about our impermanence, the fact that if we’re lucky we get 70 years,” Mr Harding said.
“And I think it shapes people’s lives quite fundamentally: What you do in certain ways is always reflected by the fact that you know that your life is fragile, relatively temporary. And that if you have an awareness of that, there is a feeling to embrace as much of life as you can and experience, and fill that time up as best you can.”