Whether one delves into the world surrounding him or his own soul, being an artist involves a lot of research, said French painter Ricardo Casal.
“Research is an investment that leads to artworks,” he said.
Mr. Casal’s new series, “Crossed Views on Cambodia,” on display at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Phnom Penh, exemplifies this view. The exhibition consists of portraits of Cambodians he has met over the past few years, as well as portraits painted by seven Cambodian artists who have been his students.
“Each painting has a story,” Mr. Casal explained. His painting “Hidden Buddha on Sihanouk Boulevard” depicts a sculptor with a piece of wood he is about to turn into a likeness of the Buddha. Mr. Casal said he met the sculptor in a workshop while exploring Phnom Penh.
“I came across wood sculptor…. I admired what they were doing and decided to paint something about them.”
Mr. Casal’s “Thankfulness” features a Cambodian girl sitting on a deep yellow and orange tarpaulin, with various fruits on a large green leaf beside her. She is seen from above, her dark hair carefully combed.
“There was something about that child,” said Mr. Casal, who decided to paint the girl after photographing dozens of children from a similar angle. He was later told that this girl, whose face he was careful not to show, had been a sick baby who survived only because some foreign volunteers took her abroad for surgery.
His portraits also include those of a female market vendor in Kep province, and Khmer kickboxing champion Chan Rothana.
Born in France in 1957 to a working-class family of Spanish immigrants, Mr. Casal spent his childhood at the fine arts school in Poitiers, a university town. “I was the school’s mascot, always in teachers’ way,” he said. He later studied at the school.
After moving to Paris in his late teens, Mr. Casal worked as an artist in design and advertising. He later switched to script writing, mainly for advertising and corporate films, although three of his feature-film scripts were produced as television movies.
In the 2000s, he went back to painting. He relocated to Cambodia three years ago and taught at the Royal University of Fine Arts as a volunteer.
For his current exhibition, he invited some of his former students to show their work. “It’s my artist family,” he said.
Thun Dina was glad to join in.
“We still are from the young generation and don’t have so many chances to show in exhibitions,” the 25-year-old artist said. His oil painting entitled “Simple” features a young Cambodian woman wearing a krama, the work done in soft tones of mauve, blue and burnt yellow.
In Im Pesey’s painting “Moon,” a young woman in a Western-style dress of soft fabric is set against the large circle of the moon, done in white and beige. “I wanted to connect her with the moon: cool, friendly…and very gentle,” the 23-year-old said.
Nhem Sopheap painted a girl reaching out to cats that are surrounding her, the scene a swirl of reddish-brown and blue. Inspired by her niece and her niece’s cats, the 26-year-old titled the work “Family Members.”
“I want to show…that pets are also family members,” she said. “They need care and warmth like human beings.”
The paintings are on display on the ground floor of the Bophana Center. The exhibition officially opens on September 4 at 6 p.m.