“Dawl Moung Hauey,” (It Is Time) proclaims the title of a new exhibition of modern paintings, drawings and sculptures by three emerging Cambodian artists.
The influence of cubism and other modern movements is undeniable in many of the works, but the artists are all adamant in their desire to carve out individual styles rather than copy.
“I learn a lot from Picasso, but I don’t copy, because I want to create from my own ideas,” said Chhan Dina, 20.
Though the three artists have trained together, they each gave very different treatments of the same subject in a series of oil paintings, “Iron Works.”
Chhan Dina’s “Iron Works III” uses bright colors and flowing lines to show flashes of light and graceful movement as the workers weld hot metal.
“Iron Works I,” by Lam Soeung, 24, manipulates perspective to give the painting depth and lead the eye in a spiral toward an undefined far-off space in the center.
However, the artist thwarted that sense of depth by inserting simple, iconic line drawings on the surface, such as a moon and lizard, reminding the viewer that perspective is but a trick on a two-dimensional canvas.
Asked why she inserted those particular images, Lam Soeung said: “Because those are the finished products of the iron workers.”
“Iron Works II,” by Chhorn Bun Som, 19, is perhaps the most striking image in the show. He uses bright highlights within a much darker palette than the other paintings.
His image is more stylized—refined without being delicate, angular but elegant, jumbled but balanced.
The young artist’s confident hand left jagged, deliberate brush strokes as forceful as the iron workers they portray.
“I have to think about the action, so I took many photos and made many sketches,” he said. “The first one I painted over. It was too soft, like watercolor. But the men are thin and strong, so I went back and just painted strong lines, without thinking too much.”
All three of the artists’ work is influenced by other interests. Chhorn Bun Som wants to fuse his artwork with studies in electrical engineering.
Lam Soeung plans to study graphic design. Chhan Dina has chosen her own instrument, the guitar, as the subject of some of her artwork.
“My drawing changes my music, too,” she said.
“It makes me want to play new music and be imaginative. The colors are like the frets of the guitar.”
That sense of exploration is also common to the three artists.
“If we copy, it’s just more of the same,” Lam Soeung said.
Chhan Dina said, “Many people copy Angkor Wat, and I don’t want to do that.”
Chhorn Bun Som expressed his desire “to make a new idea for Cambodia. I don’t want Cam-bodia to keep doing the same thing. Some people are afraid to have their own ideas, but they don’t need to be afraid.”
Their artwork, currently showing at Java Cafe, was created through Studio 310, which allows a few disadvantaged young Cambodians to study art without cost.
Though there is no indication in the exhibition’s modern, secular images, all three of the young artists are Christians who have developed not only their art, but their faith through Studio 310. Ronald Rieman began the studio under the umbrella organization Bright Arrows in Cambodia, which also includes web design and welding shops, a clay tile export business and local coffee shop Jars of Clay.
Rieman emphasized inclusiveness, saying he would accept students of any faith.
“We are Christian,” he said, “but we’re not overly evangelistic.”
Rieman said he funds the art program himself through friends abroad, “to help [the students] move out of what they’re accustomed to and support themselves [through art].”