Swirling Abstractions

What happens when a scene of everyday life gets shown through a distorting prism?

This was the question that inspired “Abstractions,” a new joint exhibition by artist Chhim Sothy and photographer Arjay Stevens. The artists hoped to embark on an exploration of the nature of visual reality, and to encourage viewers to look at the physical world without preconceived ideas about colors or shapes.

Chhim Sothy’s painting entitled 'Round Dance.' (Siv Channa)
Chhim Sothy’s painting entitled ‘Round Dance.’ (Siv Channa)

Mr. Sothy, a painter from Cambodia’s first generation of peacetime artists who emerged in the late 1990s, contributed to the exhibition images of dancers, both classical and contemporary, whose progress across the stage he translated into strokes of color on canvas.

In his work “Renaissance,” which refers to the process of rebuilding what was lost during Cambodia’s decades of war and conflicts, abstract forms of dancers in gold, red and blue swirl on the canvas, their joyous energy virtually palpable. In “Dance and Nature,” twirling silhouettes appear on a backdrop of red, blue and green.

Mr. Sothy, who started his career as a painter of Cambodian traditional scenes and dancers, has been experimenting with abstract techniques for several years. In addition to working steadily in his studio, he serves as deputy director of the Department of Fine Arts and Handicraft at the Ministry of Culture.

A biologist and medical researcher from Germany, Mr. Stevens has taken more than a million photos in Cambodia since his first visit to the country in 1996.

His photos in the exhibition are manipulated through perspective distortion techniques such as extreme close-up and not through digital illustration, he said.

This exercise in abstraction, Mr. Stevens said, “is a self-critical period…challenging one’s critical process not just on the technical side but also by revisiting the essential.”

The result is images of objects made indiscernible, beautiful and powerful lines and colors, a flourish of blue lines and pale gold fluid shapes.

“From general to substance: This, in my opinion, is abstraction,” Mr. Stevens said.

The exhibition, showing now at New Art Gallery, #20 Street 19, runs through April.

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