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Introducing Cambodian Painter Chhim Sothy

Chhim Sothy is among the best-known Cambodian painters to emerge from the first generation of artists after the Khmer Rouge. He paints in many diverse styles. And while his work occasionally explores themes surrounding the 1970s communist movement and resulting holocaust, the Kandal-province native is most celebrated for his prodigious figurative and abstract work.

Among his grandest pieces is a 7-by-5 meter painting of the “Churning of the Sea of Milk,” a popular story in Hindu mythology. His Excellency Nouth Narang commissioned the work, and the painting hangs in the Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh. Other collectors include the National Art Museum in Singapore, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the Royal Palace Art Museum in Phnom Penh, and the Municipality of Carcassonne in France.

Mr Sothy won the 2016 CLMTV Honoured Artist Award, a regional prize awarded through Mahasarakham University in Thailand. (CLMTV stands for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.) He has won countless regional and local awards, including a Royal Congratulation Letter from His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk in 2011 and a gold medal from Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen in 2007.

Born in 1969, Mr Sothy entered the Royal University of Fine Arts in 1985, at the age of 16. Cambodia was then under the control of an occupying Vietnamese force, and the subjects of art students were strictly controlled by the ruling regime. Mr Sothy spent two years studying traditional Khmer painting methods and then another three years learning the philosophies and techniques of communist poster art.

He was a diligent and curious student, cutting up burlap rice sacks to fashion makeshift paint brushes and using leaves and other natural elements to explore texture. But his full creativity was unquestionably repressed. Students who offended the occupying regime sometimes disappeared, and young artists learned quickly to follow Vietnamese orthodoxy, or else suffer the consequences.

By the time the Vietnamese army left in 1989, Mr Sothy was poised to embrace the ocean of worldly ideas that would soon come pouring into his newly liberated society. Mr Sothy spent the last five years of his studies, from 1991 to 1995, dedicated to modern art. He consumed the works of the masters and contemporary elites. He found himself drawn to the “action painting” of Willem de Kooning, the Dutch-American abstract expressionist, and others from the revered New York School. Influences of de Kooning are present in Mr Sothy’s work, as is the “drip painting” style of Jackson Pollock.

But in their essence, Mr Sothy’s paintings are clearly the work of a Khmer. Angkor Wat and its religious motifs are integral to the Cambodian identity, and so too are they cornerstones in the painter’s fount of influence. “Apsaras are in my heart,” he says. The Arunreas Collection was curated by Arnaud Darc, CEO of Thalias Group, the parent company of Arunreas. The works here, 23 paintings in all, represent some of Mr Sothy’s most expressive figurative and abstract work.

At Arunreas, the hotel’s ambience stands firmly in the Thalias Group’s tradition of simple sophistication. The interiors pay homage to the Kingdom’s rich artistic heritage, with special attention given to genuine Cambodian expressions. For the hotel’s inaugural art show, nothing could serve as a more fitting artistic declaration that the paintings of Chhim Sothy.

Download the catalog here.

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