Australian artist Morrison Polkinghorne has breathed new life into an old art form by utilising lotus plants to create a wide variety of pointillistic artwork. He collects the flowers from Buddhist pagodas and temples after holy days, and through an elaborate process, transforms them into tools he can use to create art. His latest collection of art is on display now at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra Gallery. “This is my second exhibit in Phnom Penh, but my first at the Sofitel Phokeethra Gallery. It is a wonderful venue. For the opening the hotel decorated the entire lobby with lotus flowers and served lotus-based canapés. I have a total of 31 works on display here,” Polkinghorne tells The Post.
Entitled Khmer Impressions/les Impressions Khmer, the exhibit showcases the Battambang-based artist’s unique adaptation of pointillism, a classical art form developed during the 19th century. His paintings consist of several distinct dots of colour that, when looked at as a whole, form an imaginative image. “My art piece titles incorporate English, Cambodian and French to reflect the diverse influences of Cambodia’s history,” Polkinghorne says.
Polkinghorne found inspiration in his own impressions of Cambodia, formed over 18 years as a traveller, and six as a resident. He combined these with his love of pointillism to put his spin on an ancient art form. Originally from China and Japan, monochrome ink wash paintings are among the world’s oldest artistic traditions. Polkinghorne mixes pointillism with this classic art form to create his own unique artwork. He uses the stem of a lotus plant as a stamp, dipping it in organic ink culled from the plant’s flower petals. The ink is believed to be holistic and spiritual in nature. Polkinghorne thinks the lotus plant is an apt symbol for Cambodia, as the flower represents Buddha’s spiritual awakening, his emergence from the dark depths into light, and his final transformation into a flash of beauty. “I collect flowers donated by monasteries over holy days, remove the petals from the stems, char and distil them in Battambang rain year for a year. I then add a natural fixative.
“For the actual art, I again collect specific varieties of lotus, remove the flowers, and then use those stems as my paintbrush. After just a few impressions, I have to revert to a new cut,” says the artist. The emphasis is on the refinement of every stroke’s varying depths of tone. Each row complements the last, expressing simple beauty and elegance in the final compositions. “The resulting works evoke myriad Cambodian images – its waterways and deltas – the Kingdoms’ true lifeblood – Angkorian pillars, classical landscapes, misty mountains, and tumbling waters,” Polkinghorne says.
He signs each work with its total number of dots or lotus impressions. For this exhibition, Polkinghorne used 132,383 impressions.“Most are framed in metal, as I commissioned blacksmith Sot Ratana to create frames that reflect the timelessness of the art juxtaposed with the industrial future of the Kingdom,” he says. The metal frames, designed by Polkinghorne, are mounted on grey acid-free boards, and he says: “These convey a juxtaposition of Cambodia’s timeless past with its 21st Century industrial future.” The Khmer Impressions/les Impressions Khmer exhibition is comprised of all brand new paintings. They range in size from 12cm sq to 5m canvasses, and he says some individual works take months to produce. It is also a lengthy process to distil the sacred lotus ink.
“As a weaver, there is something both sacred and comforting to counting – from totalling shuttles going from side to side on a loom, to tallying warps and wefts. “So it’s natural and automatic to mentally count lotus points impressed onto these works as they are an artist’s impressions – both literally and figuratively – of Cambodia.”
The paintings range in price from $170 to as much as $10,000 for the larger pieces, which are about 2m tall and 700mm wide. Polkinghorne thinks of his pieces ecologically and holistically, with the Kingdom’s nature and the environment as his inspiration. “This is not my first exhibition. Others are planned for the future locally and internationally. I feel truly blessed to bring Cambodian motifs to a worldwide audience. The Phnom Penh Phokeetra Gallery has free entry and is open daily,” he says.
The Khmer Impressions/les Impressions Khmer exhibition runs through April at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra on Samdach Sothearos Blvd.
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