To Express Cold and Loneliness, Modern Artist Uses Ice

Childhood fears inspire a series of paintings made by recreating the movement of color on ice

The subtle variation of colors in the abstract paintings exhibited at Java Cafe began as a way for artist Loeum Lorn to convey a past ordeal—but it has turned into his own distinctive art technique.

The series “Yesterday, no more” started when Mr. Lorn was looking for ways to express the profound cold and loneliness he felt in his childhood as a battle was about to erupt between Khmer Rouge and government soldiers around 1994.

At the time, he and his parents were selling rice porridge and noodles every day at the Boeng Trakuon border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district.

“One day, a soldier in paratrooper uniform told us to take cover because there would be a fight with Khmer Rouge soldiers,” the 29-year-old artist said.

He and his parents rushed to the Thai border and hid in the forest as near as they could to the Thai military base.

“We were so scared…. It was sometime in December; the weather was quite cold and we were freezing.”

Mr. Lorn never forgot that episode, but it was years before he could express his memories.

In the mid-2000s, after graduating from the Phare Ponleu Selpak’s art school in Bat­tambang City, where he now lives, he was invited to exhibit at the Institut Francais in Phnom Penh.

“I decided to paint a kid—in fact, myself—surrounded by ice,” he said.

“I wanted to tell the audience that the kid was so cold and so scared being surrounded by a cold environment.”

In order to convey this, Mr. Lorn chose to work with ice itself. The material quickly captured his imagination.

“Ice is really fascinating. It creates thousands of movements and colors when I apply ink, watercolor, or dry color on it. When it melts, it forms patterns,” Mr. Lorn explained. “There is something unique and special about ice.”

To seize the fleeting images made on ice as it melts and blurs colors, Mr. Lorn started photographing those patterns, then painting them afterwards.

His acrylic paintings on exhibit are alive with movement—rendering on canvas the fluidity of melting ice as it transforms colors into images.

In delicate compositions that exude serenity, colors ranging from muted orange and green to brown, grey and gold entwine as they trickle down the canvas.

A video Mr. Lorn shot to demonstrate his technique is also part of the exhibition.

“It makes people see the movement of shapes and colors: As the ice melts, patterns appear clearly in front of their eyes,” he said, adding that this movement illustrates the im­permanence of life so important in Bud­dhist philosophy.

The exhibition runs through May 13.

 

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