When it comes down to it, long-time Aussie expat Julien Poulson of Cambodian Space Project fame isn’t a bad sort of bloke – it’s just that he’s got this habit of overachieving that makes most other blokes look a bit slack.
Not that Poulson agrees.
“I feel lucky to live a creative life and in turn, life has offered me much to do,” he tells Good Times2, “I don’t feel as though I’m a particularly hard worker and wish I could find the motivation to do more with my time.”
He says this at Siem Reap’s cool new One Eleven Gallery where he’s launching Eat/Fight/F***/Die, “a palimpsest of graffiti, film iconography, text and imagery out of the Hong Kong Seventies,” according to the press release.
It’s a series of ten Hong Kong-influenced paintings he created after visits this year to Hong Kong where his partner (also a bit of an achiever apparently) has been headhunted by a stylish restaurant chain because of her culinary art skills, and he’s launching his paintings in Siem Reap while taking a bit of a breather before returning with his partner to Hong Kong where he hung out earlier in his life.
“I lived in Hong Kong 20 years ago, right behind the old Victoria Prison and was totally blown away to see how much things have changed,” he says. “The old prison’s now rehabilitated as an incredible new arts center Tai Kwun, and the city has exploded with street art and contemporary galleries as well as the usual visual feast that Hong Kong offers.
“So I’ve been wandering the place, taking in the random and deliberate images stuck to the city’s walls and this has inspired the technique I’ve used for Eat//Fight//F***//Die.”
Poulson’s art is exhibited in galleries around the world, is part of the permanent collection at the ethnographic Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, and his screen print poster series led to the setting up of the Sticky Finger Arts Prints Cambodia.
But he’s also done a lot of other stuff – so much that trying to sum it all up is a researcher’s headache.
He’s worked as a photographer, political cartoonist, graphic designer, musician, filmmaker, and arts administrator, has twenty years’ experience in the Australian music industry, has toured with rock bands in Australia and the US, managed music festivals, managed an independent record label and published magazines , released several albums, worked extensively abroad, as a photojournalist in the Philippines, produced animation in Hong Kong, and feature-length documentaries on subjects such as Balinese youth culture and transgender lives in Istanbul.
In 2007, he received an Asialink residency and spent three months in Cambodia working with Khmer musicians to record new music. He returned to Cambodia in 2009, and in 2010 was awarded the Alcorso Foundation Italy Artist Residency, and spent time in Venice writing a libretto and music for Muskito, a theatrical work in collaboration with US producer Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz who worked with The Band for 16 years.
This then led to a release of an album drawing on Tasmania’s past, which led to working with other producers and directors to develop and produce Cosmic Cambodia, a rock opera that premiered at the Sydney Festival 2016.
Poulosn has also established the Kampot Arts & Music Association (KAMA) which led to the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival which led to…well, the beat just goes on and on.
But right now he’s in painting mode and explains how he goes about his art.
“Kampot’s my studio,” he says, “I’ve got a big space above KAMA cafe. I’m not set in any work regimen but do tend to put in the hours and block out my life activities when I have a motivation to paint.
“I usually paint several works at once so it’s time-consuming but while the finished works looks ‘fast’, I’ll paint a bit then leave them to sit so I can catch them out of the back of my eye and plan the next attack… that’s when I like to have a break, hang around with some company and dream up inspiration or talk about ideas for finishing the work.”
Art, he explains, is in his blood.
“I grew up surrounded by art and some of Australia’s best-known painters – Charles Blackman, John Olsen, Mirka Mora, Brett Whitely etc.
“My grandmother Marjorie Hill was also a painter as well as a businesswoman who pioneered the arts scene in Tasmania by opening the first contemporary Gallery in Salamanca.
“I’d hang out there as a kid and sometimes paint or draw, but paid little heed to the idea of becoming a painter.
“Later I moved to Melbourne. I got into a rock’n’roll band, went to film school but also met an older generation of artists. The people I met around this scene really influenced me and one even gave me a gig in Hong Kong, where I illustrated cartoons for a newspaper and got a taste for the EFFD series currently exhibiting at One Eleven Gallery.”
And while as always there are projects, there’s a film to be made that’s his overriding goal, a film dedicated to his former wife.
“I would like to make a feature film,” he says. “One based on my Muse Goddess, which is of course the extraordinary life and legacy of Kak Channthy.
“Earlier this year, not long after Channthy’s death, I screened a short film, Flicker & Fade, at Cannes Film Festival.
“None of this was planned, but the film is a ‘proof of concept’ for a feature about 70’s Cambodian singer based on Poev Vannary.
“It was one of the most moving and emotional experiences of my life – to hear Channthy’s voice booming through the Cine Olympia’s sound system and to contemplate all that has gone on and lead me to this.
“I am working on making a feature as a tribute and a work of art.”