From a Practical Problem, a Series of Artistic Collages Is Born

French artist Mario Angel’s series “Collages” was born out of his concern over what to do with Buddhist prayer flags when they became too damaged to use.

At the time, he was staying in a small villa in the Himalayas in a remote corner of India where, according to custom, he displayed prayer flags outdoors. But they would become frayed in snowstorms, leaving him with the problem of disposing of them in an appropriate manner.

French artist Mario Angel finishes his paintings in Phnom Penh last month. (Alicia Guthert)
French artist Mario Angel finishes his paintings in Phnom Penh last month. (Alicia Guthert)

Mr. Angel decided to use the flags to create a collage of the Dalai Lama, using red, blue and yellow flags for a portrait of the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and a mosaic of black-and-white flag fragments as backdrop.

Returning to Phnom Penh, where he has been living on and off for nine years, he continued the series last year, which will be exhibited in the city beginning on Friday.

To depict the famed 1960s singer Ros Sereysothea, he mainly used pieces of discarded newspapers published in Cambodia.

For the portrait of Al Capone, the infamous U.S. gangster of the 1920s, he pasted fake $100 bills.

And for the giant face of Jayavarman VII, he added gold leaves to the collage of the Angkorian king.

Born in 1953, Mr. Angel began his career as a political cartoonist for publications in France. “I have always lived off my art,” he said Wednesday. “Granted, it was not always easy, but I was able to eat.”

This has meant being flexible by, for example, designing T-shirts for ship crews and reggae music concerts when he was living in the Caribbean.

Mr. Angel was the regular scenic designer for the celebrated French film director Claude Chabrol. He worked on the late-night television show “Eurotrash,” which was broadcast in the U.K. and France in the 1990s. And he was even involved in one of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion shows.

In the meantime, Mr. Angel, who had had the good fortune of attending some of France’s best art schools, tried out techniques and styles in his studio.

“I would easily get bored, working with crayon at one point and then abandoning it for oil paint,” he said. Prior to this collage series, he had been painting in an impressionist style.

Even while producing these latest artworks, he played with techniques, using collage to create relief in some works and painting over collage in others.

“Experimenting is the artist’s goal,” Mr. Angel noted.

“The culmination for me would be to do abstracts. I believe that abstract can only be achieved if we have managed figurative [painting]: Abstract is painting with one’s guts while figurative is painting with one’s brain.”

The exhibition is being shown at The Tea House Hotel, 32 Street 242. It opens Friday night and will run through February 22.

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