One large painting in Chhim Sothy’s exhibition opening Thursday at The Plantation hotel in Phnom Penh is a vast tableau that embodies his artistic journey over the last 20 years.
Entitled “Harmony,” this striking abstract comprises small geometric forms as well as “kbach,” the traditional patterns based on flowers, leaves or flame that are the basis of all ornamentation in Cambodia. Set against a pale blue-gray background, the acrylic and gold leaf painting is a contemporary work with quintessential Khmer touches.
“These are our roots,” he said. “Now that we are in a period of computers and mobile phones, we must not forget our past, our culture.”
Mr. Sothy was among the first generation of peacetime artists to graduate from the Royal University of Fine Arts in the mid-1990s. He became known in the late 1990s and early 2000s for his beautiful works that depicted traditional scenes of the Reamker—the Cambodian version of the Indian epic tale Ramayana—which he set on contemporary backgrounds.
But wishing to explore new themes and techniques, he began to experiment with abstract styles in the mid-2000s. By 2010, he had become a painter working strictly in contemporary styles.
This exhibition, entitled “Consuming Passion,” includes works of cubic inspiration as well as abstract ones. The theme refers to all longings: those for what is essential but also those for what may prove harmful, Mr. Sothy explained.
“A passion may be so consuming that one will not be at peace until it is satisfied,” such as a child yearning to go to school or an artist to paint, he said.
But then, razing a forest for one’s own benefit without considering the long-term effects on others, or killing a person standing in one’s way may also be consuming passions that should be curbed, the 46-year-old artist added.
Included in the exhibition is the oil painting entitled “Cosmos,” a striking study in blue-gray and brown, a celebration of nature being in harmony with the universe. “Every element is necessary” to make our world whole, said Mr. Sothy, who is deputy director of the Culture Ministry’s fine arts and handicrafts department and paints nearly every evening in his large home studio.
His exhibition at The Plantation hotel opens at 6 p.m. Thursday.