Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funky apsaras come to the fore

Funky apsaras come to the fore

Artist and illustrator Tamara Venn.
Artist and illustrator Tamara Venn Miranda Glasser

Funky apsaras come to the fore

London artist and illustrator Tamara Venn was so inspired with Siem Reap after her arrival that she created a collection of Apsara drawings, based around the traditional Cambodian concept of ‘days of the week’ clothing colours.

Halfway through her three month stay, Venn, who is here visiting her brother, says that she fell in love with the beauty of Cambodia.

She trained at the prestigious Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London and her portfolio includes prop design and fashion illustration – among other things she designed panels for the launch of Lily Allen’s vintage clothing shop in Harvey Nichols, an English luxury department store chain.

Here in Siem Reap, she says that when she saw an Apsara show, it sparked her creative juices.

“I like drawing women and I like drawing accessories and clothing – I’ve done lots of fashion stuff,” she says. “And I used to draw interiors. I would just get more and more detailed – I suppose I like drawing beautiful things. And so when I saw the Apsara dancers, they are beautiful, the colours are great and also I loved the golden detail of the headdresses.”

The green or ‘Wednesday' Apsara
The green or ‘Wednesday' Apsara.​ TAMARA VENN

She decided to paint a collection based around the Cambodian concept of ‘seven colours of the week.’ This is the traditional belief that each day of the week corresponds with a planet, each planet having its own colour. Clothing for special occasions therefore, such as a wedding or Khmer New Year, is chosen according to the day on which that occasion falls.

“My brother told me about this,” Venn says. “Apparently according to the planet’s personality, each day would be associated with a colour. So for example Monday is orange. I thought that was a really nice idea; seven pieces of work would make it a nice collection of drawings.”

To date, Venn has painted three Apsaras; one dressed in green for Wednesday, one in pinky-red for Sunday, and one in blue for Friday.

In her typical style, she uses fine-nibbed pens to create incredibly detailed delicate pen and ink drawings, filled in with gold paint and watercolour. The results are fairytale-like illustrations akin to something from a children’s book, with a hint of sixties retro in the faces – all the Apsaras have pouty red Cupid’s bows and demurely-lowered long lashes.

“My illustration style is quite intricate,” says Venn. “I don’t actually do faces – it’s the one thing I don’t like drawing. So this time round I’ve got as far as lips and eyes.

“I’m changing the colours so that they work to the seven day thing, and I’m adding different headdresses and head-pieces so that each one’s a bit different.”

Venn says she would like to exhibit the finished drawings locally.

“That would be lovely,” she says, “I’d love to, or maybe if some galleries or shops here wanted to sell them, that would be nice.”

Venn returns to London in a few weeks to assist with a 300 metre commemorative wall mural project at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but reckons she’ll be back in the Kingdom in the future.

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