French Painter Offers Glimpse Into Kampot’s Spirit World

For years, French painter Vincent Broustet, whose exhibition “Southern Spirits” opens tonight at the McDermott Gallery Old Market in Siem Reap City, has lived in the countryside in Kampot province, quietly working in his studio.

Then a few months ago, he realized that there was something “eerie” in his latest series of oil paintings. Somehow, they seemed shrouded in an ethereal aura he had not consciously created, he said Wednesday.

'Anonymous,' an oil painting by Vincent Broustet (Antal Gabelics)
‘Anonymous,’ an oil painting by Vincent Broustet (Antal Gabelics)

Mr. Broustet soon recognized this as an expression of the world of ghosts and spirits that Cambodians often refer to in the rural community in which he is immersed.

“Instinctively, working from my studio…this series is a reflection of my immediate environment,” he said, explaining that in rural Cambodia, people frequently attribute unusual dreams or incidents to the intervention of spirits.

In Mr. Broustet’s work, this has translated into images that are slightly unreal. In the painting “Holy Cow 6,” a buffalo and a calf are seen in an eerie expanse of gray-green tinged with yellow. In “Girl on Orange,” a woman is depicted in a soft, orange-yellow mist. In “That Moment of the Day,” a peaceful scene depicted in an impressionistic style is rendered in gentle green, orange and yellow tones.

The 52-year-old artist, who studied at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, lived in Europe, South America and North Africa before coming to Cambodia about a decade ago.

Wherever he goes, he tries to let his surroundings seep in “with no preconceived idea,” he says, to better express the reality of the place and the moment. In Morocco, Mr. Broustet painted dark scenes using brown tones. Had he settled in Phnom Penh, his work would probably be entirely different, he added.

The exhibition at McDermott Gallery Old Market runs through April 15.

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