Painter, sculptor and chef Nou Sary has found a way to harness his twin passions: art and sushi. A new exhibition at Mahob marks the start of an enticing creative partnership between him and the chef and owner of the restaurant, Seng Sothea.
The pair held a grand opening party last weekend at the much-lauded eatery, which specialises in Cambodian cuisine, and announced a second joint venture: a new hotel and spa featuring a restaurant headed by Sary.
The mid-range River Bay Villa hotel and spa, which opens this week, will serve up sushi and teppanyaki, and feature a gallery space dedicated to Sary’s work.
The artist’s exhibition at Mahob, a selection of paintings and sculptures titled Roots Untied, reflects his long-held interest in the interdependence of humanity and nature. With acrylics and oils painted on traditional materials such as the krama or rich brocaded fabrics, he created scenes from the Cambodian countryside and everyday life.
The scenes are simple – silhouettes of single forms, two monks taking shelter under the protection of their umbrella – but the use of colour and technique give a great sense of vibrancy and life.
In some, Sary uses extravagant, colourful brush strokes to create images bursting with life. In others, more controlled strokes combine to create scenes full of detail and tension.
“It’s about man and nature,” the artist said. “We cannot live without it. All my work is mostly about culture, religion and daily life in Cambodia.”
Sary and Sothea met when Sary walked into Palate restaurant one day to drop off his portfolio. Sothea was head chef at Palate at the time, and it only took him one look to decide that he wanted to collaborate.
“When I first saw his paintings, I was very impressed, because he bridges so well between Khmer traditional art and modern techniques,” said Sothea. “And the more I look at his paintings, the more I can see in them.
“They talk about agriculture, about human nature, how we lived in the past and how we cannot be sure of the future. It looks very modern, but it is still very strongly rooted in our traditions as well.”
Originally from Kandal province, Sary returned to Cambodia last year after spending 12 years studying and working in Paris.
With a scholarship secured from the French Cultural Centre (now the French Institute) in 2001, he studied at the Higher School of Fine Arts at St Etienne and his black and white photography won him a bronze medal at the Salon of the Association of French Artists in 2005.
Graduating a year later, he chose to stay in France, continuing to exhibit his work while also training as a sushi chef, before returning home.
Mahob is located on River Road and is open every day from 11:30am to 11pm.