Tucked away in an alley between the Royal Palace and Wat Botum, affectionately redubbed “Street 240 and a half” by its new inhabitants, Loven Ramos and his cohorts are busily putting the final licks of paint on the walls of ARTillery, a new gallery, fashion boutique and café set to shake up Phnom Penh’s art scene.
ARTillery is a worthy new project for Ramos – the Filipino-born favourite son of Siem Reap and architect of Art Deli, the 1961 Art Gallery and Poetry Café in his adopted city – who is now gearing up for his first foray into the capital.
“Phnom Penh is growing in leaps and bounds in so many ways, so it’s really exciting to be part of that energy,” Ramos says.
“It’s experiencing a great renaissance, not always in the ways that we like, but it’s certainly growing. That’s what gave me enough confidence to put up my own thing here, especially in the presence of major players like Java, Meta House, Sa Sa Bassac and all that. The art community in Phnom Penh is really growing, so even though you have big players there’s room for growth.”
Ramos’ point man in ARTillery is Jay Fountain, who will be overseeing the café’s operations.
Fountain travelled to Cambodia to visit his sister Emma, a long-time collaborator with Ramos in his Siem Reap ventures.
Ramos and Fountain immediately clicked, and ARTillery was born.
For his part, Fountain is hoping to use his eight years working in haute cuisine back in England to offer a new culinary experience to the café’s patrons.
“I’m trying to bring the standard of the food across,” Fountain says.
“We’re going to be doing the artisan coffee, things like what I picked up in England, because nobody seems to be doing that at the moment and it’s a bit different. And obviously it’s interlinked with the artwork we’ll be showing, the clothing we’ll be stocking. So it all sort of mingles into one.”
The consistent theme Fountain alludes to is a result of the pair’s commitment to ecological consciousness, which they want reflected in ARTillery’s operation.
Not only will the café exclusively stock produce from Cambodia’s only accredited sustainable farm, the duo is aiming to only stage artists with a ‘green’ theme.
Their debut exhibition will feature artworks composed of found objects by Cambodian artist Savann Oum.
Future exhibitions will feature a photographer creating prints with environmentally friendly materials like chlorophyll, and an illustrator mounting his drawings on discarded tissue paper from Starbucks.
ARTillery will also a dedicated store for Super Sovann, a superhero created by Ramos on Facebook which proved to be a runaway hit with Cambodia’s youth.
Of all of Ramos’ endeavours, he’s clearly most proud of his cartoon creation, a reflection of his love of Cambodian culture as well as his interactions with the people of his spiritual home.
“It’s almost like Khmer pride,” says Ramos, “along with how it is living in Cambodia both as an outsider, and as a Cambodian trying to bring Cambodia to the eyes of the world.”
“Now I’m starting a more Phnom Penh-centric line of Super Sovann posters and postcards. You know, I never actually fell in love with Phnom Penh until I started being here for more than three days at a time. You don’t really uncover the real beat of Phnom Penh until you get in the groove of it. Now I’m officially hooked, I’m an official fan.”
ARTillery is located on Street “240 and a half”, by Wat Botum off Street 240. The café will begin serving on Friday, March 23. The ARTillery Gallery’s official opening party will be held Sunday, March 25, at 6:30pm, with a performance by Australian singer/songwriter Amanda Bloom.