Nout Daro, a member of Cambodia’s new wave of contemporary artists, effortlessly embodies a relaxed yet stylish aura, harmonising with the vibrant artwork that serves as his backdrop. 

The charismatic artist’s connection with the dramatic, nature-inspired art piece suggests an affinity for cultural richness and an appreciation for the fusion of art and fashion.

As self-confessed lover of the outdoors, Daro intricately weaves nature into his creations, producing masterpieces that resonate with individuality, self-empowerment and a deep connection to the natural environment.

His dedication to activism extends beyond the canvas, as he commits to raising awareness about environmental issues. 

One particularly striking piece, titled My Life My Rule, stands as a testament to his devotion to his craft and to capturing the harmony between humanity and nature.

Crafted with acrylic on canvas, the artwork features a central figure composed of natural elements, resembling a mask with large, leaf-like structures. The nearly symmetrical arrangement draws the viewer’s gaze to the vibrant pink lotus flower at the centre, symbolising purity and rebirth. Horn-like extensions rising from the head further emphasise the theme of asserting one’s presence and identity. 

With every stroke and each intricate detail, Daro’s art transcends the canvas, telling a story of connection and environmental advocacy.

“I opt for nature, vines, roses, and particularly leaves to symbolise the freedom of growth,” he shares.

Profound metamorphosis

My Life My Rule is featured in the ongoing Ekarieach Multi-Arts Competition Exhibition, held at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra. The piece seamlessly blends two hands pressed together for respect, as well as a lotus flower which is reminiscent of the Independence Monument, subtly weaving threads of respect into the exhibition’s overarching theme of independence.

The artist sheds light on the symbolism in his art, describing the lotus as a metaphor for the journey from adversity to spiritual elevation, rising from the mud to the worship altar. Falling plant leaves, acting as fertiliser, represent the interconnected, cyclical nature of life.

Although his paintings may hint at both human and animal forms, the artist clarifies that they don’t depict specific species.

Instead, he draws inspiration from Cambodian Kun Lbokator martial arts and skillfully infuses elements of vines and the distinctive horns of Mondulkiri province, rooted in the rich cultural heritage of the Jarai ethnic minority community. 

“All my paintings feature leaves, symbolising nature and inspired by my adventures. I avoid adding details because any natural material that falls on it will inevitably blend into the ground,” Daro tells The Post.

He explains that when crafting the large 2x3m image, he initially included a calf and a person. However, deeming it excessive, he opted to remove the man, focusing solely on the image of a calf. 

In consideration of the theme of independence, he found depicting a calf inappropriate, given the young cow’s guardianship by parents.

Consequently, he transformed it into an adolescent cow crafted from leaves, yet he still felt he hadn’t delved far enough into such a profound subject as independence. 

Ultimately, he settled on a human form, infused with additional cultural elements.

Origins of the artist 

“Working on this project for the past two years or so, from the initial drawing to the final version, has presented both creative and unforeseen challenges,” Daro reflects. 

“During the first year, amid the pandemic, my art gained recognition, and was selected for an exhibition in France. Unfortunately, due to the widespread impact of Covid-19, the event was ultimately cancelled,” he says.

Early exposure to art came from familial influences – his grandfather, a sculptor, and his father, a skilled carpenter. The creativity within the family ignited his fascination with the arts, surrounded by the tangible elements of sculpting and carpentry.

Growing up immersed in so many tactile forms of expression, he absorbed the intricacies of form, structure and the intimate connection between materials and his own imagination.

Aside from his artistic lineage, he finds frequent inspiration from nature during his frequent camping trips into the countryside. 

Gaining momentum, he immersed himself in formal education at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh. There, he not only refined his technical skills but also encountered a diverse array of artistic philosophies.

His evolution from realistic to abstract art was shaped by his time there.

“Being immersed in diverse artistic styles and movements was crucial for my development as an artist,” he says.

Mirror of nature

Daro says that it allowed him to experiment with various techniques and truly discover his artistic voice. The academic environment served as a melting pot where all his ideas could fuse into something truly distinct and personal.

Initially hesitant, his family now supports him, and his artworks grace prominent galleries, showcasing Cambodian art globally. 

“As an artist, my work is part of a deeper interaction with the natural world,” he says, emphasising his dedication to championing environmental issues through art.

His art serves as a potent tool for raising awareness about environmental challenges, crafting visually compelling and emotionally resonant pieces. 

Through his paintings, he invites viewers to engage in a dialogue about the consequences of environmental degradation, with his pieces acting as mirrors which reflect both the beauty of nature and the threats it faces.

Following the easing of pandemic restrictions, he began showcasing his work in Japan.

“In preparation for the current competition, I began incorporating ideas and paintings, blending them to align with the theme of the Ekarieach Multi-Arts Competition Exhibition,” he says.

The 33-year-old artist notes that he enjoys incorporating implicit images without aiming to clearly convey a message in the picture.

Besides the prominent artwork showcased at the competition gallery entrance, offered for sale at $15,000, he also has several other large-scale paintings awaiting their turn to be exhibited.

“I have an upcoming solo exhibition, tentatively set for June, although I haven’t settled on a location yet. This will mark my first solo show, with an emphasis on larger pieces. In the past I have contributed work to group shows, alongside other talented artists,” he shares.