Focus: Art of Savann Thav
Art Republik explores a different kind of abstract with Savann Thav.
Benoit Mandelbrot was recognized for his contribution to fractal theory, the idea that a pattern repeats itself in an irregular way. Fractal features are embedded in the smallest of things like DNA to the largest of things like coastlines and ocean waves and extends even to the cosmic universe such as Jupiter’s rings. Cambodia-born Paris-based artist Savann Thav takes this idea of repeated patterns beyond Mandelbrot’s fractals by taking his patterns in the opposite direction: he transforms irregularity into a regularity of irregular patterns, his works transcend the sutures of the canvas, spilling into diptychs and triptychs.
In his solo exhibition ‘Embroidered Dreams’ with Intersections gallery in Singapore, a showcase of his paintings from 2014 and 2015 that embody the ‘Savann Thav style’ – a combination of colors, composition and textures to give rich and vivid abstractions of the natural world. This world is reminiscent of Savann’s upbringing in Cambodia, where the pastoral image of the countryside influences a major part of his artistic style and vision.
In Savann’s untitled piece created in 2014, the thoughtful blend of red, white and yellow shows how he transforms what seem to be spots and blots into coherent and regular patterns. This work features a lushness of red against yellow, two colors that, along with blue, form a triadic color harmony. This particular color combination renders the color harmony effective, for Savann so delicately balances the red and the yellow in a way that the red take precedence over the yellow, leaving the yellow only as accented spots in a sea of red. One could attribute this color combination to the Cambodian landscapes that so vividly remains in Savann’s memories.
Savann’s technique of stitching together motives of different colours and textures form a patchwork is no different from Mandelbrot’s ‘fractals’, meaning fragmented or cracked. Mandelbrot tried to make sense of irregularity, but Savann takes this irregularity and injects it with embroidery-like order.
Contrary to Mandelbrot’s fragmentation and brokenness, Savann’s works demonstrate the remarkable stability afforded by embroidery. Embroidery, in its classical sense, is a mark of excellent craftsmanship, made possible through technical accomplishment. Embroidered products are often carefully stitched to form a multitude of designs, often with conceivable images, that are straightforward to interpret, like flowers or birds. Whereas Savann tests the foundations of the remarkable stability afforded by embroidery by providing a contrast – there is always a looming sense of ambiguity, a certain freedom in interpretation provided by the abstraction.
His paintings seem to depict flowers, but the artist never gives it away and he leaves that up to the audience to interpret. In that sense the flexibility and freedom presented by Savann’s artworks is so contrary to the name of his exhibition ‘Embroidered Dreams’ but this paradox is exactly the point – the juxtaposition between two mutually incompatible things: ‘embroidery’, which we typically associate with well-defined images and ‘dreams’ with impressions and blurred images. It is perhaps this antithesis: an amalgamation of the tangible with the intangible, the defined with the undefined, that we find at the heart of Savann’s works.
His is a macrocosm of his Cambodia-Paris experience but with a microcosm of his own inner landscapes and emotions, emotively expressed through the vivid use of colors, such as red and yellow, to recreate the textures of Cambodia with the Western art technique. In this stark incongruity, Savann’s art is so visually and emotively arresting, so free in its abstraction and so reflective of his life struggles. The audience gets a glimpse into his internal landscapes and how they have been moulded by extraordinary external struggle.
Savann’s childhood was met with the loss of his mother and his motherland due to the war. Finding peace in art, his natural environment served as fuel for creativity, giving his paintings its naturalistic elements as well as a sense of universality. As such, the audience finds more than just impressions, as much as Savann’s works is a portrayal of the landscapes that make up Cambodia, they are also an exposé of the landscapes that make up his mind.
One cannot truly comprehend beauty if one has never known pain. Perhaps Savann’s works, more than being representative of the natural world is an attestation to that, that only with pain, can one truly understand both the internal and external landscapes that shape humanity. Indeed, Savann reinforces the seams of our imagination with his poetic scenes from nature and his multi-layered understanding of the textures and paints that make up art and life.
*For more information, please visit www.intersections.com.sg
This article was originally published in Art Republik