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Epic watercolour journeys


Artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) art school in Battambang will be featured in The Epic Journey, an exhibit opening tomorrow at Romeet Gallery, where watercolour paintings from two books, A Journey on the Jayavarman and Bohak, the Land of Guignols, will be displayed.

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The event will also serve as a launch of the whimsical children's book Bohak, the Land of Guignols, and 26 watercolour illustrations from the book wil be shown.

The paintings were done by 13 student artists from PPS.

Srey Bandaul, a PPS teacher, wrote the text and had his students create matching illustrations in 2009.

He says the idea was inspired by Bo Hak, a new student at the time who had been deported from Thailand in 2003 after crossing into the country illegally to look for work.

Bo Hak didn’t return to his home town in Kampong Thom province. 

Instead, he stayed in Battambang to study.  

“He stayed at Phare Ponleu Selpak to study painting with me. When he arrived, he was a bit funny. He was a joker in the way he walked and behaved, so I decided to write about him. My students, including Bo Hak himself, began to paint many pictures,” Srey Bandaul says.

Bohak, the Land of Guignols is the story of a young arts student who asks his teacher if he can take home a puppet his class has just made, only to be woken up by the same puppet at midnight.

The two become friends and visit places together in the colonial town of Battambang and in the puppet’s home village.

They take a journey and ride on animals, dinosaurs and elephants, fighting against obstacles they face on the way.

The second set of book illustrations featured in the exhibit includes watercolour paintings from A Journey on the Jayavarman.

This book is a visual travel guide consisting of watercolour paintings accompanied by text describing a boat trip from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City.

The paintings were done by five students from the PPS art school.

The book, commissioned by  Heritage Line, a cruise company in Vietnam, was published in 2010 and sold on the company’s boats journeying between Cambodia and Vietnam.

“It’s kind of a big project, similar to the Carnet de Voyage travelling notebooks in France,” says Anna Tuyen Tran, the manager who led the book project.   

Before making the book, Tran took a trip by boat from Siem Reap to Saigon with an artist from the PPS. That artist took photographs of landscapes, boats, ports and what he saw along the river.

He and other artists at the PPS then created paintings inspired by those photographs.

Tran wrote the text to describe her personal trip, along with tips for passengers.  

Aside from showing the book illustrations, Romeet will also host a children’s art workshop series as part of the exhibit.

The “Kids Creative Workshop” will be held for three hours every Saturday in March and will be led by professional artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Children will learn to draw pictures and make books similar to A Journey on the Jayavarman or Bohak, the Land of Guignols.

“Through the workshop, we want to educate people and get them involved with the gallery, and help them have a great experience with art,” Romeet Gallery manager Kate O'Hara says.

She plans to have participants create a story and paint pictures for a book.

Everybody will get a copy of the book they have made.   

O’Hara says A Journey on the Jayavaraman is already available on the Heritage Line's Cambodia-Vietnam cruises, and at some bookstores in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Bohak, the Land of Guignols will make its debut this evening at Romeet Gallery, with a first run of 200 books available for sale at the gallery.

The Epic Journey exhibition also opens tonight at 6:30 and will run until March 20 at the Romeet Gallery, #34E Street 178, Phnom Penh.

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