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Ink drawings depict ‘innocence’ of youth

Phnom penh

INNOCENCE is the name of an exhibition of drawings currently showing at Java Arts Café, consisting of a collection of portraits in ink and coloured pencil by local artist Qudy Xu.

The drawings, made over the past six months, mostly show children’s faces exuding expression and emotion.

Xu said the idea for the drawings came about when an art dealer saw the artist’s earlier works at a show at Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap. The dealer, impressed by how Xu portrayed faces, suggested that she do a series of drawings on the subject.

Xu said she started the project with a number of study sketches to experiment with the expressions she wanted to capture as well as different lighting angles. The sketches are also part of the show.

“I have always loved drawing people,” Xu said. “The expressiveness of the eyes and hands are what I wanted to focus on.”

Though she said she likes to shy away from the spotlight herself, Xu is an avid people-watcher and found most of her subjects around Phnom Penh.

“I was talking to one little boy at a pagoda, and as he spoke about purity and the soul he said, ‘I want to be a monk for 150 years,’” Xu said.

The quote became the title of one of the pieces in the show, and most of the other titles also came from comments the artist overheard while working on the portraits.

Xu said she worked from sketches, photos and memory, first drawing out the faces in ink pen using a variety of pen widths. Shading was created by fine cross-hatching, and the hair was drawn strand by strand. From a distance the dark areas appear very dense, but up close the depth and details come out.

Originally, the idea was to make pen and ink drawings with just a touch of colour, but Xu said that when she began applying the colours the portraits didn’t appear finished until they were full colour.

The drawings were made on two different kinds of matting paper: one light beige and the other a darker shade, almost brown.

“I experimented with the medium and really liked the effect, which results in some of the drawings nearly looking like an oil painting,” she said.

Xu was born in China and has lived in Cambodia since 1999. She’s been exhibiting her art since 2007, but the current show is her first solo exhibition. The portraits are on display until April 8 on the first floor of Java Café, #56 Sihanouk Blvd.



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