Lotuses are ubiquitous in Cambodian culture. Among other things, the flowers are a symbol of fortune and purity and they can be found everywhere from wedding ceremonies to funerals to rear view mirrors. The seeds too are a popular snack.
Now, for a new exhibition and workshops being held in Phnom Penh, Sino-Lao artist Teck Inthavong is making use of the highly symbolic plant’s leaves to create art.
“I wanted to find something beautiful and relevant to our daily lives that nobody pays attention to, so it made me think of the lotus and its leaves,” said Teck, who is originally from Vientiane but now lives in Bangkok.
It wasn’t easy.
It took Teck 18 months to develop a secret non-toxic and natural preservation recipe and technique that ensured the leaves retained enough moisture to prevent them snapping or crumbling and did not degrade over time.
Once the freshly picked leaves have been treated with his secret treatment, he then delicately smooths them on to the canvas, making sure that they don’t tear or break, before letting them dry and then, after this, he begins to paint.
The resulting artworks are diverse in colour and mood, from calm green and blue to vibrant pink and yellow. Small details in gold, silver, bronze or copper outlines create highlights whilst enhancing the texture of the leaves.
Teck and his wife Catherine Gajean are holding the exhibition, Lotus Inspiration, and running the series of workshops on the technique at the TeaHouse Asian Urban Resort. The cost to participate in the workshops is $40 for a regular size painting or $80 for large.
Teck said he wanted to spread his technique all across Southeast Asia where the lotus is significant.
“I chose Phnom Penh as my first exhibition because I wanted to dedicate it to Khmer culture for their talent and their history,” Teck explained.
The workshops allow people of all ages to create their own “lotus inspiration”, through the use of different colours, utensils – paintbrush or sponge and styles.
Some messily blur the borders of the leaves, while others gradually blend the colours or intricately apply detail, often taking a number of classes to master their piece.
“The biggest challenge is getting people to start painting,” Gajean said.
“People don’t know what colours to paint with, so I ask them what their favourite colour is, what colour their living room is and so on.”
Some people liked to use the workshop as a social occasion and painted very quickly, whilst others took their time to focus on intimate details.
“After about an hour [of the class], you really learn about who the person is,” said Gajean.
Lotus Inspiration will run until January 4 at TeaHouse, #32 Street 242. To book a workshop contact 023 212 789.