Theara Rith, also known as Nara Fashion, is a 31-year-old graduate from National University of Battambang, who majored in Business Administration, and works as a civil servant at the Pursat Provincial Planning Department.
Theara has loved traditional Khmer drawing since he was a child. “I have loved Khmer drawing and Khmer art and culture since I was born. I especially want to participate in promoting and promoting Khmer culture and civilisation,” he said.
Traditional Khmer painting is rooted in the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia and reflects the country's history, tradition and religious beliefs. Having an affinity for Cambodian culture and traditional Khmer painting is a way of connecting with and appreciating the artistic expressions of Khmer heritage.
Khmer classical art drawings are known for their intricate details, vibrant colours and graceful compositions. The meticulous brushwork and attention to detail create visually stunning artworks that captivate viewers. The beauty of Khmer classical drawing can evoke a sense of awe and admiration, Theara told Kiripost in an interview recently.
“I love Khmer classical art drawing and painting because it represents cultural heritage, has aesthetic values, conveys symbolism and storytelling, skilled artistry, has historical and artistic significance and fosters a personal connection. This multifaceted appreciation stems from the profound impact and rich cultural tapestry woven into the fabric of traditional Khmer painting,” he added.
He learnt how to draw at Phare Ponleu Selpak in 2016. Phare Ponleu Selpak School is renowned for its arts programmes, particularly its focus on visual arts and performing arts. “I have been honing my skills for several years now. I am amazed at how I started with my own natural talent and developed my abilities through formal education.”
Study, Research Khmer Classical Art
To create accurate and high-quality Khmer classical drawing, artists need to study and understand the subject or form an image they intend to depict. This involves mastering drawing skills and achieving a desired level of proficiency. Depending on the desired outcome, artists may aim to replicate the subject or interpret it in their own style.
When creating classical drawing, he said it is important to stay true to Khmer art tradition and aesthetics. This can be challenging as artists need to strike a balance between incorporating their own creative expression while preserving the essence of Khmer art. It requires a deep understanding of Khmer artistic principles, techniques and cultural context.
To avoid inaccuracies and mistakes in Khmer classical drawing or paintings, an artist must thoroughly study and research each sculpture and the corresponding period it belongs to. “This involves gaining knowledge about historical, cultural and artistic nuances of each period to ensure the artwork is faithful to the original intent,” Theara explained.
Theara’s Unique Drawing
“The primary objective in drawing is to combine ancient artistic styles with new and contemporary elements. I aim to generate unique and original designs that showcase my creative ideas. The goal is to create a fusion of traditional and modern aesthetics, resulting in a fresh and innovative body of work,” he said.
He emphasised that this approach allows him to draw inspiration from the rich heritage of ancient art while injecting his own creative vision into the piece. It involves exploring various techniques, themes and visual elements from different time periods and cultural contexts by combining these diverse influences, where he strives to achieve a harmonious and cohesive fusion that results in the drawing of a Khmer classical art.
Influence of Khmer Classical Art
Theara shared that his drawings have a specific focus on capturing the attention and interest of the modern youth and understanding that the new generation seeks novelty, uniqueness and attractiveness. “I have designed my artwork to cater to these preferences.”
To achieve this, he has incorporated elements from the new era, drawing inspiration from contemporary trends, styles and themes that resonate with young people and by infusing these modern influences with elements of ancient art, he creates a fusion that bridges the past and the present. This blending of styles and eras results in the creation of contemporary art that possesses a distinct appeal and relevance to the modern youth.
His aim is to captivate and engage the younger generation by offering them something fresh, innovative and visually striking as he combines ancient art with contemporary aesthetics. He taps into the timeless allure of tradition while simultaneously providing a contemporary twist that resonates with the preferences of the modern youth.
Challenges of Drawing Khmer Classical Art
“My family is less inclined to support drawing as they prioritise academic learning over creative pursuits. They believe that drawing is not a reliable or viable career option. To address this challenge, it's important to communicate the benefits of drawing, showcase success stories of artists, and find a balance between drawing and other responsibilities,” he said.
Drawing requires a significant time commitment, which can be challenging when balancing school and other commitments. “Late nights or limited free time can make it difficult to find dedicated time for drawing. To overcome this, effective time management, utilising early mornings or weekends, and breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable portions can help make drawing more feasible,” he shared.
While drawing materials such as coloured paper and other supplies can be costly and sometimes hard to obtain, alternative materials like pencil and paper or digital drawing tools are more cost-effective, he said, adding that recycling and repurposing existing materials can help reduce expenses.
Theara described his drawing skills as contemporary as he embraces current artistic trends while reflecting modernism. He also deviates from traditional or classic styles to offer a fresh and innovative approach.
By placing his creations within an ancient context, he establishes a connection to the past and introduces new elements and ideas. “This juxtaposition of the old and the new creates a unique artistic language that sets my work apart.”
“In my drawing, I explore the boundaries of traditional artistic conventions and push the limits of what is considered ‘classic’. This allows me to experiment with unconventional techniques, materials and subject matter, resulting in a distinct and contemporary body of work,” he added.
In combining the ancient context with new creations, he challenges the notions of what art can be and invites viewers to see familiar concepts through fresh eyes. His drawings offer a reinterpretation of the past and provide a platform for artistic expressions within a contemporary framework.
In the past, there was significant support from the public and modern youths for some initiatives or projects. These initiatives involve the use of recycled costumes that are repurposed and transformed into national representative costumes.
The concept of displaying recycled costumes as national attires brings out a sense of national pride and identity. It showcases creativity and innovation by combining traditional elements with a sustainable approach.
The strong support indicates a positive response to this initiative as his drawings showcase a high level of artistic skill and beauty. “I pay attention to detail and am meticulous in creating art resulting in visually captivating and aesthetically pleasing pieces. The quality of my work contributes to the admiration and appreciation from my guests.
“My ability to produce artwork in a timely manner is valued by my guests. The combination of my skill and efficiency allows me to complete drawing quickly without compromising on quality. This promptness in delivering artwork is appreciated by my guests,” he expressed.
The affordability of his artwork is another appealing aspect for guests as more people are able to acquire them. This affordability factor contributes to the popularity and positive reception of his work.
Support Classical Art
Theara urged people to support Khmer classical art and other artists, as the latter play a crucial role in promoting cultural art through their artwork. “By creating and sharing my work that showcases Khmer cultural art, I aim to preserve and celebrate the artistic heritage of Khmer culture.”
The public can actively participate in promoting Khmer cultural art by purchasing artworks, visiting exhibitions or sharing the work of artists on social media platforms.
“The significant role that sharing drawing and painting plays in promoting Khmer cultural art whether through social media, word of mouth, or other means, help raise awareness and generate interest in Khmer cultural art among a wider audience,” he said.