ASEAN PAINTINGS: Artist making waves – Khmer Times

One of Channa Chum’s stilted houses. Supplied



The humble Cambodian stilted houses from the floating village of Kampong Phluk have been elevated into an art form by watercolour artist Channa Chum, whose new paintings of the houses are on display at an exhibition at Siem Reap’s The Little Red Fox Espresso café.

Channa first painted the stilted house nine years ago, while a student at Phare Ponleu Selpak, but then stopped painting stilt houses and painted Khmer traditional wooden houses instead because they were more accessible.

Now he’s returning to his first love, and Little Red Fox Espresso co-owner, Adam Rodwell, says Channa is looking at the houses with “new eyes” after the nine-year hiatus.

“Channa tells me that when he got to see them for the first time, his eyes weren’t ‘developed’ enough to fully appreciate what he had seen at the time back in 2003,” Rodwell says.

“Now, with a trained eye and with more experience as a watercolour painter, he says he now understands the underlying beauty behind the stilted houses and that he is glad he had waited all these years to complete this series.”

Rodwell adds that Channa has a passion for painting all manner of traditional Khmer houses.

“He thinks they are simply beautiful and wanted to show through his paintings how magnificent they are,” Rodwell says. “He wanted to showcase how some Khmer people are living differently from those who are living in the city.

“He also loves the mixture of wood and corrugated metal, and how everything looks so bright and colourful under a sunny day.”

Channa’s painting of houses has added flair because he specialises in watercolour, a technique he opted for when entering the Phare Ponleu Selpak school.

Back then, he was given different options of painting styles he could work in, and although only a few Khmer artists specialised in watercolour, he wanted to challenge himself by opting for one of the most difficult modes of painting.

Rodwell adds: “He also said he wanted to study watercolour because he wanted to make paintings as ‘real’ as possible.”

The exhibition at the Little Red Fox Espresso is a result of a collaboration between the café and a new art studio collective in Siem Reap.

“We have begun to collaborate with Serey Siv, one of the creative minds behind a new space in Siem Reap by the name of Mirage,” Rodwell says.

“We always strive to feature art that has roots in a Cambodian experience, whether that be the art or the artist themselves.

“Through our new collaboration with Mirage-Siem Reap, we were introduced to the work of Channa. His technique with watercolour is simply stunning and we could not be happier to feature him in our cafe-come-gallery upstairs.

“The reaction has been immediately fantastic. We had our exhibition opening on the evening of December 17, with an amazing attendance of both Khmer and foreigners, which was really great to see.

“Having made some immediate sales from the exhibition on opening night, it is clear Channa’s passion for the stilted houses of Kampong Phluk really comes through in his work.”

The exhibition runs at the Little Red Fox Espresso in Kandal Village, Siem Reap, until January 17.

Peter Olszewski
Khmer Times
06:14 AM December 22, 201


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