WHAT’S a cool and edgy Los Angeles musician-cum-visual-artist called Senon Williams doing launching his international solo exhibition in humble old Temple Town?
Well, he’s following a new trend that heralds the recognition of Siem Reap as an international arts centre, with global artists coming here to host exhibitions, to workshop and to be inspired.
This year, Tribe Art Gallery has helped kick boost pioneered by One Eleven Gallery by “importing” hip and happening artists, and now One Eleven, true to form, is bringing noted musician Senon Williams to Siem Reap to internationally debut his solo exhibition entitled, ‘Originally Here to Observe’ on October 19.
Williams is no stranger to the Kingdom as he has performed in Cambodia several times as bass player with the eclectic LA-based band, Dengue Fever, with chanteuse Chhom Nimol as the dynamic lead singer.
The band has released several albums, and also featured on the sound track of Matt Dillon’s 2002 Cambodia-set film, ‘City of Ghosts’, with a Khmer cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now.’
But muso Senon has another string to his bass – he’s an accomplished visual artist who combines text and graphics and his recent work is so novel that it’s been published in book form and described by one critic as “a new kind of novel.”
Selected art works from this book will be on show at the at the One Eleven Gallery’s ‘first release’ exhibition.
But just as reviewers find it difficult to pigeonhole Dengue Fever’s music, critics find it difficult to define Senon William’s art works.
Williams, who is a self-taught artist with a history working as an art preparator in galleries and museums, and as an artist’s assistant, tells Khmer Times how he defines his work.
“A wave of spirit,” he says. “A quick thought after long contemplation. A memory out of context where the person viewing has to create conclusion or not. In some cases my work is a reflection of humanity through a broken shard of glass.” Which clears that up.
Williams also explains how his art work became a 208-page hardbound book titled, ‘Hunted & Gathered.’
“An artist named Ed Ruscha began to collect my work,” he says, “I received a call from him in late 2016. He thought my work would make a great book and would like to publish a monograph with his partner Ed Hamilton.
“Ruscha connected me with book designer Lorraine Wilde. After a few months she told me to stop adding more paintings because I kept bringing new work to our meetings. We finished the design in mid-2017, and the book was published late that year.”
Senon Williams’ exhibition will cap a long association with Siem Reap – he first came to the town as an independent traveller way back in 1995.
“I was travelling through Thailand and Vietnam,” he says. “I found out somewhere that I could get a visa on arrival in Phnom Penh and how different it was from all the travel I had done so far. I booked a flight and stayed for two weeks in Cambodia – it was the most memorable time of my journey.”
He also recalls his visit to Siem Reap, noting, “I don’t remember many places to eat. There was no nightlife. I bought a bunch of old duped cassettes from the market and heard a lot of Cambodian music I hadn’t heard before. Angkor Wat was empty except for the monkeys and small tours that were easy to avoid. I recollect an alligator farm and eating turtle egg soup.”
He then returned to Phnom Penh as a band member in 2005, and returned to Siem Reap with the band in 2011.
Since then he has been back to Siem Reap “almost every other year.”
The story of how One Eleven Gallery signed him up for the exhibition is taken up by the gallery’s co-owner, Robina Handley.
“My sister, Allyson, was living in LA and working the art scene. She and Senon worked on the same high-end projects around the prestigious Beverly Hills area.
“Allyson called me back in 2010 and during the conversation asked if I had heard of the band Dengue Fever. I said, ‘Of course I have, everyone here has’.
“She then went on to explain that she knew the bass player and that they were coming to Cambodia to play in Phnom Penh in May of that year. I went to PP for the (incredible) gig and met Senon and the rest of the band after the show. I’ll never forget his first words to me: ‘Well, you don’t need to introduce yourself to me, you look exactly like your sister’.
“Getting to know Senon over our nine-year friendship and following his visual artistic journey, I proposed the idea to Jessica and Danny, my One Eleven Gallery partners, and they agreed it would be a wonderful exhibition.
“We wrote to Senon and he said ‘yes’. We were not aware that this would be his debut international exhibition and we are honoured to be hosting such a poignant show.”
Or, as Senon succinctly says, “One Eleven Gallery offered me a solo show and I told them I would be at the opening…I usually do what I say.”