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Artist has new look at old architecture

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One of David Richards’s watercolour paintings of Phnom Penh’s historic buildings.

American painter David Richards will launch his latest exhibition tomorrow night at Chinese House. A year in the making, the exhibition titled Indochine: A Romantic Look into the French Colonial Architecture from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, features a collection of 67 original watercolours focussing on the French colonial architecture built in the region between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The exhibition includes paintings of Phnom Penh’s iconic “Mansion” and post office building.

Richards said he’s been fascinated with the city’s architecture since holidaying here in the mid-’90s. “Although it’s an Asian city, the architecture gives the place a European feel, and that is something unique to this region.”

Partly inspired by the desire to raise awareness of the need for their preservation, Richards has depicted several buildings in their pre-renovated states, including a painting of the post office from 1931 featuring ornate gold and black marble panelling in the baroque style, “before they decided to paint over it in the yellow you see everywhere today.”

Influenced by the French post-impressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau, as well as  Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt, Richards describes his style as ‘very graphic, very linear and very two-dimensional.’ Yet, his latest exhibition will include of a handful of abstract paintings among Richards’ usual representational depictions.

“That’s what works for me. But every ten to fifteen paintings I like to do something different by veering off and having a bit of fun,” he said.

Originally drawn to the European and American landscape painters of the 19th century, Richards has painted “his whole life”, and covered everything from rainforest, jungle and marine-scapes, to country-side towns, Angkorian statues and the mermaids of Maui.   

His latest subject has seen him travelling beyond Cambodia to capture other French-colonial architectural sites in the region, such as the Opera House of Hanoi, Saigon’s People’s Court, and the Ansara hotel in Vientiane. And while there are no plans to take the current exhibition abroad, Richards hopes to exhibit the collection in Siem Reap, “perhaps next spring.”   

This is Richards’ fifth Cambodian exhibition in the past three years, and follows on from last year’s Bars and Beyond which depicted scenes from many of Phnom Penh’s most (in)famous bars and clubs, including Maxine’s a.k.a. Snow’s, the Led Zeppelin café and Heart of Darkness.

The Indochine exhibition launch runs from 6pm until 8pm at Chinese House. Paintings from the exhibition will be on display until November 13.

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