French-Educated Art Student Brings Energy to Acrylic Paintings

A few of Em Riem’s brush strokes and football players are in full flight.

Bold dashes of golden yellow, black and mauve, and a player plunges into a scuffle. Powerful dabs of red, blue and black, and they are running at full speed.

Action springs from Em Riem’s acrylic paintings on exhibit at Java Gallery and Cafe. Some of them are abstractions, but in many cases, blocks of mat color combine to create people and scenes.

Energy and exuberance eman­ate from his canvases. Even a still-life depicting bottles on a table conveys a feeling of homeliness. The painting entitled “Writing” reflects the concentration and intent of a man at a table drawn in jets of red, black and copper.

In his seaside series, the 24 year-old artist uses pale yellows, gentle blues and greys to portray a peaceful day, and turns to deep mauve and black to depict stormy waters.

Since Sept 2000, Em Riem has been studying at the Saint-Etien­ne Fine Arts School near Lyon in France, on a scholarship from the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. He had already completed his studies at the Royal University of Fine Arts when he competed for and won the scholarship two years ago.

Originally from Kandal pro­vince, Em Riem moved to Phnom Penh at 12 years-old to attend high school. In 1996, as he was not sure what to do next, a neighbor suggested taking the Royal University’s entrance exam. About 30 first-year students would be selected, he said. “I did not know how to draw. So I studied a little bit and passed the exam.”

At first, Em Riem found the courses difficult. “I didn’t know perspective, and I was not getting good marks.” But professors worked with him and his marks improved in his second year.

Em Riem lived with friends of his family. To pay expenses, he started drawing postcards, which sold quite well, he said. He would also paint classical Cambodian themes, such as the Bayon faces, for the tourist market, and worked as a model in advertising.

After completing his fourth year at university, Em Riem took on a full-time job in Phnom Penh working on tourist handbooks. This started with a two-week stay in Siem Reap to draw the area’s map.

Em Riem returned to university for two more years during which he took part in a series of workshops with guest artists invited by the French Cultural Center. Then in 2000, he obtained the scholarship for Saint-Etienne.

From his first European contact at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, Em Riem loved it. “It was so exciting. There were so many people; it was strange, and I was thrilled.”

He struggled through his first year, having to both study French and experiment with new techniques. “You have to think all the time, and work, work, work.”

When he went back to France at the beginning of the month, Em Riem was looking forward to his third year, which will be on design. “Designing furniture, that’s what interests me.” Classes will focus on modern furniture concepts, not classical, said Em Riem. His parents, who now live in Koh Kong province, are furniture makers.

“Abstractions” will run until Oct 13. Java Gallery and Cafe is located at 56 E1 Sihanouk Blvd.



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