Dominique Tricoire’s studio, just off Phnom Penh’s bustling Street 19, is not the easiest place to find. No signage has been installed, and it seems that this low-key set-up is exactly how he wants it to be. “Phnom Penh has a complex and heavy character,” said Tricoire.
“You can easily fall into the rabbit hole of loneliness and depression, despite being in a crowded, bustling area.”
As Tricoire moves towards his studio and onto the balcony, this rather dark statement on the bipolarity of the city becomes even more apparent. The leafy trees and the spires of the National Museum seem almost out of place, standing in defiance of the noise made by the crush of commuters trying to make a living just a few storeys below. This view is one among many across Cambodia that inspires Tricoire’s many works, which vary greatly not only in style, but also in material and techniques.
From watercolour portraits of people to large oil paintings of the various landscapes that he has encountered along his travels acround the country, it may be a bit hard to pinpoint Tricoire’s style. In fact, the common denominator seems to be the extemporary nature of his works, which he attributes to his spontaneity and the stream-of-consciousness method that he employs.
“Whenever I feel inspired, I have to start immediately and I would usually be finished within two or three days,” he said.
“I can’t think too much about paint or mediums, that’s beside the point of my work anyway,” continued Tricoire, who came to the country from Paris in 2012.
“I make use of whatever is available at my disposal.”
Tricoire’s main drive is to convey the complexity of emotions that sweep over an individual when faced with a certain scene, whether it be natural landscapes, religious complexes, or even faces. “Everyone has their own interpretation of a particular subject and this is heavily influenced by their own lived experiences,” said Tricoire, which seems to explain his extraordinary uses of lines and colours which don’t serve to limit the subject to a particular box as much as it aims to spark the imagination of the audience.
In his larger works such as ‘Blue Memory’, the audience is treated with a sweeping depiction of a sprawling temple complex, but soon after, the viewer may be left wondering which particular temple is being depicted in this surrealist piece that almost glows with its bluish hue.
“As I said, the point is to convey emotions and the complex interplay of factors that influences a person’s perception of a subject,” said Tricoire. “This particular piece was inspired by many religious complexes I have visited in my travels. One could be just as excused for thinking that this is Angkor Wat, perhaps the Borobudur Temple, or even the ancient city of Bagan.”
This lack of geographical cues is also evident in his work ‘Last Drink’ – a surrealist depiction of no bar in particular, with subtle cues that hark back to that romanticised ideal of the ‘Orient’.
“It could be in Hanoi, it could be in Phnom Penh, it could be in the Bund in Shanghai, it could be anywhere,” said Tricoire. “It could be a bar, it could be a late-night noodle joint – but melancholia is the actual subject.”
Indeed, all strokes seem to be directed to achieve that end. From the sodium street lights that cast an eerie, yellowish hue onto streets that are completely devoid of people to the waning moon that peeks from the tops of shophouses – it all serves to amplify the emotions Tricoire is trying to convey.
Even in his simpler works, such as his series of watercolour portraits of characters along his travels in Cambodia, Tricoire maximises the use of colour to convey not only emotions, but the story behind the subject.
In ‘Street Boy’, for example, Tricoire uses long strokes of black to ‘distort’ the hand of the truant – perhaps alluding to the fact that the boy has had to use his sticky fingers to live another day. The burnished shoulders streaked with red, as well as the mischievous grin on the boy’s face – everything comes together to create a narrative behind each subject.
“Whether it is ink on paper or oil on canvas, ultimately my works are reflective of my emotions and experiences while dealing with the subject matter,” said Tricoire. “That the outside world has an impact on a person’s psyche, as much as a person’s psyche can influence their perspective of the outside world.”