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Snow's dot art on show

Ian 'Snow' Woodford set to discuss the origins of his artwork and the fusion of Khmer and Aboriginal themes that influence his acclaimed body of work

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge Roy

Snowie achieves his meticulous detail, as in the above painting, by dotting his canvases with the help of a magnifying glass.

Early in the morning,  Ian "Snow" Woodford rises from bed and opens the doors of his riverside home to the wide expanse of water before him. Its still and quiet in the early hour, the "perfect time to draw".

Taking a thin, paint-stained stick, a magnifying glass and endless patience, Snow sits down at his desk and begins to dot a piece of canvas. Over and over again, he repeats the same movement until a picture begins to emerge.

"This art is very different," he said. "It's a mixture of Aboriginal art and ancient Khmer. Basically, it's lots and lots of dots. I get a real satisfaction from my work. It relaxes me in a meditative sort of way, and it clears my head."

Snow's path to life as a full-time artist has been marked with potholes, from the embarrassment he felt enjoying art as a young teenager growing up in football-mad Sydney, to his colour-blindness - he cannot see purple and has great difficulty distinguishing browns, light greens and yellows.

"My mother can't believe it, that I finally have a talent that has come out. I have always liked decorating things, pots and vases and stuff, and making everything where I live beautiful. But this is something else. It gives me a great feeling of peace and satisfaction."

Dot painting

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge Roy

Ian "Snow" Woodford at work in his studio.

Snow first moved to Cambodia more than 15 years ago to work for the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia during sponsored elections in 1993.

Previously he had spent six years working as a foreman on a gold mine near the Adelaide river in the remote  Northern Territory of Australia. It was here that he first encountered the famous dot paintings of the Aboriginal people.

"There was nothing to do up there. We had one pub that we used to go to on the highway, and outside it were a group of Aboriginals who painted dots on didgeridoos. [Pictures of] kangaroos and platypuses  - the most detailed things. I started watching them a lot, taking in the colours, and it stayed with me until I came over to Cambodia."

In 1997 when a coup erupted in Cambodia, Snow stayed on, but the streets were deserted and he soon grew bored.

"I really started [drawing] seriously in 1997. I started and suddenly I couldn't stop. I was drawing the face of a lady, and I had to work into the night. I had to keep going. The last two years have been pretty intense. The dots have got finer and finer. They are almost like embroidery now."

Loyal following

Snow's work captured the eye of his customers at his popular Maxine's Bar across the river, and he began selling his work, receiving commissions from Australia, Washington and London, and giving interviews to interested journalists.

Tonight, Snow will be the star attraction at the British Business Association dinner at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where he will be exhibiting 16 works and discussing their creation.

Snow's work has a loyal following, and many pieces in the exhibition have already been presold, with up to five buyers tussling over favourites.

"People respond really well to the warmth of my pictures," he said. "The Three Ladies, for example. It doesn't matter which way you look at it, they will always be looking at you. Up close, the pictures can be a little confusing, but then you step away and you see it, and you stand somewhere else and it changes colours. [The pictures] are best in sunlight. Then they just light up."

Snow has plans to begin painting on wood, and perhaps eventually bark, the way the Aboriginal people traditionally do in Australia. He is also moving towards acyclic paints and looking forward to experimenting with silvers and golds brought over from Australia.

"It's exciting. This next set is going to be more beautiful, I am sure. And I can't stop, I just can't stop. It's in my blood ...  and I love it."

Snow will  describe the evolution of his approach to art at 6:30pm tonight at Le Royal. Tickets are US$30 and include a three-course dinner and drinks.

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