At first glance the art of Georges Rousse doesn't look like much. Painting on photographs seems more like a gimmick than any serious attempt at conveying ideas or emotions.
But a closer study reveals just how wrong first impressions can be.
In fact, Rousse's creations are not two-dimensional shapes painted onto flat images. That is just an illusion. In reality, Rousse paints the scenes before he takes the pictures -- accounting for things such as shadows, supporting beams and perspective -- to create life-sized visual trickery.
Sponsored by the French Cultural Center, the Paris-born Rousse recently finished an artist-in-residence program in Phnom Penh, where he spent two weeks using the old mansion at 32 Sotheros as a backdrop for his latest inspirations. A dozen large-format prints, including two created at the Sotheros mansion, are on display at the French Cultural Center until October 12.
The illusions in Rousse's exhibit span from simple -- a single word, for instance -- to so complex as to challenge the notions of possibility. Indeed, some remain inscrutable even after extended study. One photograph -- created at 32 Sotheros -- simply says "DREAM." Another far more elaborate piece, concocted in Mezy-sur-Siene during 2000, comprises a detailed elevation map, with miles of squiggly black lines and exotic names painted onto a whitewashed stairwell.
Of Rousse's dozen exhibition prints, only one was taken outdoors. It is easily the most enigmatic piece in the exhibit. The scene is a back yard, and a disheveled greenhouse in the center of the frame vanishes into the surrounding grass and fence in a mesmerizing interchange of fact and fiction.
Rousse counts the Russian painter and art theoretician Kazimir Malevich as one of his greatest influences. A pioneer of geometric abstract art, Malevich is credited with creating the avant-garde suprematism movement. The defining shapes of suprematism are the square and the circle, and Malevich's seminal "Black Square on White Background" marks the movement's birth in 1915.
"With his discovery of 'Land Art' and 'Carre noir sur fond blanc' (black square on white background) by Malevich, Georges Rousse decided to intervene in the field of photography by establishing a completely new relation between painting and space," says literature accompanying the exhibit.
Circles and squares are the defining elements in many of Rousse's creations.
"When I arrive in a space it's like a painter in front of a blank canvass," says Rousse. "The painter is intimidated by the emptiness of the space, the emptiness of the canvass. And to manage to break into that emptiness is jubilation for an artist."