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Windows on impermanence

'Minerallos', a new exhibit of portraits in oil from artist David Harding, comprises a meditation on mortality that the artist hopes will allow audiences to 'feel something'

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Two of the paintings on show at Java Gallery and Cafe.

Java Cafe opens its doors tonight with "Minerallos", a new exhibition of works by artist David Harding.

The cafe was the first to exhibit Harding's paintings when he began as an artist. Now, many years and many exhibitions later, his paintings are gracing the cafe's walls again.

Harding has lived in Phnom Penh for nine years and works with Friends International as a technical adviser and drugs specialist.

Upon arriving in Phnom Penh in 2000, Harding was determined to teach himself to paint.  While he still describes himself as an "enthusiastic amateur", this impressive collection indicates years of dedication.

The 12 paintings on show are portraits in oil and constitute what Harding feels is his most consistent body of work to date.

Explaining his fascination with portraits, Harding says that like eyes being the window to the soul, faces are the window to the world.

"There's just something about human faces ... They're not just windows to that individual, they're windows to the whole world. And they change all the time - every nuance, every change of light, change of expression," he said.

And paintings of Cambodian faces are prominent in Harding's collection.

"Things here aren't easy for a lot of human beings ... and you can see that in their faces. It gives them a particular character, a uniqueness. It's a uniqueness that I think is particularly aesthetic," he said.

The collection is motivated by Harding's meditations on mortality and legacy. He says with humour that the collection represents an "anxiety about popping my clogs in 10, 20, or 30 years".

Impermanence

The idea of impermanence haunts the collection.

"It's just the realization that we'll all be gone one day. And two or three generations on from now, people won't ... remember us as people. We might be remembered as concepts but ... no matter how much we feel that we've contributed or created, we're still just part of human history," he said.

This transience, Harding feels, is cause for both remorse and celebration.

"We come from the Earth, we go back to it. While we're here, let's have a good time."

Harding emphasises this ashes-to-ashes theme by imitating natural elements such as sandstone, sulphur, chalk - "the dirt, the mud, the mulch" - and superimposing faces over the top in what he describes as "transient media".

His work also draws upon art forms that are perceived as ‘throw-away', such as comic books, street art and news footage.

Although these themes have lent motivation and cohesion to the collection, Harding says that the exhibition is not about a particular theme.

"It's not about [the audience] exploring their own human condition and going away rubbing their chins, mulling over their life from now on. It's just whether people get a feeling from it....That's what I paint for. Just that people maybe feel something," he said.

Dana Langlois, owner and general manager of Java, has found it interesting to watch David's evolution as an artist.

"For me, there's been a close tie to his progression as an artist, watching this work change and evolve," she said.

"Minerallos" will open today at Java Gallery and Cafe and runs until May 2.

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