Boats have served as transportation since the earliest of times in human history, but unlike many other primitive inventions, people are still using the structures intact over centuries. For an unartistic person, boats are no more than vessels for travelling over water, propelled by oars, sails or an engine, but in the eyes of an artist like illustrator and painter Guillaume Reynard, they are subjects of beauty and conveyors of messages. In his latest expo, Reynard presents poetic and aesthetic elements of the watercraft in Cambodia, as he tells Taing Rinith.
GUILLAUME Reynard, a Paris-based illustrator, draws children books and graphic novels as well as illustrate reports or thematic articles in the daily press and magazines. He is not the kind of artist who sits down at his desk and draw pictures from imagination alone. He loves travelling and uses his artistic gift to capture the “poetry” of a place he visits.
One of Guillaume’s projects is the collection of drawings depicting the city of Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the Middle-East, during his six-week artistic travelling residency there.
“Then the director of the French Institute (of Cambodia) knew about my project in Jerusalem and asked me to do something similar, but especially for Cambodia,” Guillaume says.
“I have never come to Cambodia, and I did not know much about the country. Yet, I read about the country in the library, and I found it very interesting. So I came here.”
Guillaume likes to draw by the waterside, and in France, one of his favourite subjects is boats, which gives a captivating “change of pace,” seizing his attention. At first he thought it may not be a good subject for his project, but when he arrived in Cambodia, he found that although boats, known locally as touk, are so much different from those in his home country, they play crucial roles in Cambodian life which is pretty much dependent on the Menkong River and Tonle Sap lakes.
The perception led to boats becoming the theme of his first ever showcase of artwork in Cambodia, which he dubbed En ‘touk’ khmer: navigations graphiques (Aboard a Khmer “Touk”: Illustrated Sailing).
For around three weeks, Guillaume embarked on an adventure on the waterways of Cambodia to look for models of boats and inspiration. He went to Silk Island in Kandal province, the urban and rural areas in Kampong Cham and Kratie and floating villages and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. While boats are the centre of his drawings, Guillaume, in a manner of a naturalist, also included their surroundings, especially the natural and human environments.
After working day and night at the end of his trip, the artist crafted 50 sketches and acrylic paintings, which are currently on display at the French Institute of Cambodia. En ‘touk’ khmer: navigations graphiques is held in corporation with Sipar, a reading-promotion NGO and a book publisher who is considering on turning his artwork into a picture book.
Apart from artistic value, the pictures are a vivid documentation of Cambodian boats as they depict all kinds of vassels found along the Mekong River and Tonle Sap in the Kingdom, from Touk Tnout, small boat made from a palm tree’s trunk, to Touk Ngor, the long racing boats used by Angkorian navy of the past and now traditionally featured in the Water Festival.
Speaking at the opening of the exhibition two weeks ago, he said pictures have many hidden messages, including the physical environment which could disappear no thanks to climate change and global warming.
Guillaume said his travels in Cambodia allowed him to see and learn many new things, but the most precious thing he registered during the trip is to be able to communicate with the Khmer people.
“Cambodian people are friendly and curious,” Guillaume says. “Whenever I was drawing, they came near me and look at my pictures, and they like them.”
“I wish I could work on another project in Cambodia soon so they can see more of my paintings.”
En ‘touk’ khmer: navigations graphiques will be open to the public at the French Institute of Cambodia until October 12. Entry is free.