In Cambodia, where more than 90 percent of the population are Buddhists, lotus flower is a known symbol for spiritual awakening, born out the mud but gradually evolves into a beautiful flower. For the next two months, Cambodian art lovers will have the chance to see how this plant – typically used in religious offerings – has been incorporated into the works of a talented impressionist artist.
Australian artist and weaver Morrison Polkinghorn has been working for years in Battambang, a province famous as inspirations for artists from around the world thanks to its traditional Khmer artistic heritage and a strong touch of colonial legacy. For years, Morrison has been thinking about creating something different and original yet still depicting the identity of the country he resides in.
He kept experimenting until one fine day – some five years ago – he found that he could use lotus flower to express his contemporary works. Adapting pointillism, a painting technique in which an image is formed by applying pattern of small, distinct dots, Morrison crafted grey-and-black-toned pictures, using lotus stems as his brush with an organic ink made from lotus flower petals.
“I envision my pieces ecologically and holistically, with the Kingdom’s nature and environment as the inspiration,” explained Morrison.
“Lotus stems are my pain brush while the flowers create my tone. Just as with traditional Chinese and Japanese ink-wash painting, the emphasis is on the refinement of every stroke’s depths of tone.”
His artworks comprise of vertical and horizontal rows of varying depths of darkness. The pieces are shaped following the natural pattern of how a lotus flower grows, with each line complementing the last.
“I keep creating the dots to create different shape and tone, and with the intensity of the tone, to create the works,” Morrison said. “It is a very slow, artistic development.”
Meanwhile, the recipe for Morrison’s ink, created after years of studying with artisanal papermakers and traditional woodblock printers in the region, is a trade secret.
“I got the lotus from a very big Buddhist ceremony from a temple in Battambang, where Cambodian people offers the lotus flowers as a form of gratitude to Buddha,” Morrison explained. “The monks allowed me to take the lotus the next day of the ceremony, and I used the petals and the rainwater I collected in Battambang to make the ink.”
“It took me one year before I could start working on my painting”.
Morrison eventually unveiled his newly-found artistry at his solo exhibition dubbed Khmer Impression in the gallery of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra.
The artist named each piece according to the total number of lotus strokes, or points, on each paper and finally applying this figure along with his signature. In total, Morrison has produced 132,383 points or “impressions”.
“As a weaver, there is something both sacred and comforting in counting: from totaling shuttles going from side to side on a loom, to tallying warps and wefts,” Morrison said. “So it’s natural and automatic to mentally count lotus points impressed onto these works. Artist’s impressions—both literally and figuratively—of Cambodia.”
When asked about the messages in his paintings, Morrison said he wants to motivate other art enthusiasts, regardless of their skill level, to do “something crazy” too.
“You may see this idea as crazy, but it created something artistic, something that have a visual feeling that people can enjoy. The point is that you have to think out of the box.”
Khmer Impression exhibition is open to the public for free from February to April at the Gallery of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra.