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Dusting off art in Siem Reap

Peter Olszewski / Khmer Times Share:
Claudio Fiori with some of his work. Supplied

Siem Reap digital artist Claudio Fiori is paring down, hoping to survive the pandemic-induced economic squeeze.

He’s divesting his raiment. Gone are the hippy-happy flowing robes of his Indian sojourn, the John Lennon-Jesus-like beard and flowing locks, all replaced with a utilitarian pared-down short-haired look and a pared-down lifestyle.

Gone too is the Charles de Gaulle Road accommodation and studio gallery – his new digs are rooms above Travancore India Restaurant in the Pub Street precinct, with the restaurant serving as a makeshift gallery.

Grim reality has set in, and Claudio, 64, says he is hanging in and dusting off his digital offerings.

Claudio Fiori’s A face of flowers. Supplied

With the help of new patron Mitch Bronsly, he’s engaged the services of a Chicago-based PR company, sending out an international press release announcing, “Artist Claudio Fiori Creates Online Store to Reconnect with Customers.”

The press release also says: “The stereotype of the ‘starving artist’ has never been truer. Claudio has since had to close his studio and now works from a single room apartment. With the very real possibility of not being able to afford to put food on his table, let alone paint on his brush, Claudio has attempted a pivot away from the tourist streets, into the high tech world of online art sales.”

But Claudio, who settled in Siem Reap two years ago, hasn’t been putting paint on brush for more than a decade. He ditched all the cumbersome baggage of the traditional painter – all the oils, paints, brushes, easels and canvases – for a laptop, transforming into a digital artist, a medium more suited to his then peripatetic lifestyle.

“I’m an eclectic, trained in the traditional fine arts such as oil on canvas, watercolours, pastels etc,” he says. “Since we live in the 21st century, there is a new media to express our creativity, the digital.”

“I think is the duty of any artist to experiment with this new expressive opportunity. I have no training whatsoever in such a media, but as I do with, say oils, every new painting is a learning experience. And so it is with the digital,” he adds.

Claudio’s formative years as an artist were mostly in the Milan area, where he was born and taught art by various Italian masters. He then travelled the world, mostly around India, Nepal and Tibet, in search of inspiration, understanding and knowledge.

“I am also known as Chit Vilas Das,” he says. “Which means I am a servant of the pleasure of knowledge. I have always been attracted by the peace, love and the ‘brown bread practicality’ of hippies. I love to learn about other cultures.”

When Claudio first arrived in Siem Reap two years ago, his art made quite a splash. As well as having his own permanent gallery, he also exhibited at the Art House and Tribe galleries in Siem Reap and Meta House in Phnom Penh.

But with the pandemic shutting down the tourist trade, which in turn shut down the galleries and the art market, Claudio’s income stopped coming in.

But hope looms. Hopefully the online store will work.  And already in Siem Reap there are signs of revival of the art scene with the closed-down One Eleven Gallery collaborating with the very-much-open Little Red Fox Espresso to revive the prematurely shut-down exhibition of paintings by Brit artist Jo Peel, re-launching the work this Saturday, January 30.

“Last year’s Jo Peel exhibition at One Eleven Gallery was unfortunately cut short due to the pandemic. So we are thrilled to breathe fresh life into this stunning exhibition,” says The Little Red Fox co-owner David Stirling.

Artist Jo Peel at work. Supplied

“We are really close to the crew from One Eleven Gallery and when its co-owner Danny Melham shared that he still had Peel’s art, I expressed keen interest in re exhibiting it,” he adds.

Peel’s work has been dusted off for the re-showing with an air of irony.

When her work was launched in February last year, an attendant press release announced: “As the red dust is slowly swept away and the tarmac rolls over to assimilate Siem Reap into a modern attraction, this is a town in transition, which, through these paintings, Peel explores.”

But since that release was written, Siem Reap streets have been torn up as part of a mammoth road widening scheme, leaving the town looking like a post-Beirut bomb scene and of course with the dry season setting in, all is coated in the aforementioned red dust.

“Created in 2019, Peel’s work depicts hopeful scenes of a vibrant and bustling tourist town undergoing rapid transformation and growth as global migration took hold,” Stirling says.

“With the ambitious road widening project currently underway, Peel’s work has never seemed timelier. As buildings are currently being altered and sidewalks upheaved throughout Siem Reap, it seems almost any rubble and dust-laden street could pass as a subject in Peel’s exhibition,” he adds.

And the good news is that the Peel exhibition is just one of the many creative projects in the planning at the Little Red Fox this year.

“As for us at the Little Red Fox, we have a few ideas for this year and we are also open to collaborating with others in our community on events and projects,” Stirling says. “Our focus for this year is to keep pumping our positive energy and foxy coffee vibes into the universe.”


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