My personal journey as an artist began in my childhood. Born in the 1960s, I was raised on a small hill-farm in England. When not helping with chores around the farm, if the weather allowed I would be climbing trees and exploring the woods, hunting for mythical beasts and building castles from fallen branches. On rainy days or long winter nights, I could be found drawing fantastical scenes or with my head stuck in a book, reading tales and creating images of lost cities, brave warriors, fearsome monsters, and epic adventures in far-flung lands.
My introduction to Angkor came as a young boy when, on my weekly trip to the village library, I found a book describing the rediscovery, by 19th century European explorers, of remarkable temple cities lost in the jungle. One of those explorers, Henri Mouhot, described in my book the temples of Angkor as “The work of giants!” I was spellbound, and Angkor became a regular fixture in my drawings and imaginings but, as fate would have it, it would be almost 40 years before I would discover the temples for myself.
I studied fine art at college in London and trained as a painter before setting off on my own travels through South and Southeast Asia, sojourning in northern India and in Thailand. I was deeply moved by the richness of the cultures and landscapes that I encountered and was inspired to weave these into my work. I spent my 20s apprenticing to local master craftsmen and artists, learning new techniques and exploring new art media, and developing my drawing, painting and composition skills far beyond what I had learned at school.
Unfortunately, after the American War and the holocaust in Cambodia, it still wasn’t safe for foreigners to travel in much of the region and, heartbroken, I didn’t witness the marvels of Angkor until much later.
I eventually returned to Europe, travelling around the Mediterranean and working as a freelance designer and illustrator to fund my continuing studies and adventures.
I met my wife Annie in 2014. She also has a deep love for Southeast Asia and, over a glass of wine one evening we said “Why not? Let’s go!” Within weeks we had sold almost all our worldly goods, packed our dog in a crate and were on our way to Siem Reap, Cambodia, a short tuk tuk ride from the Angkor Archaeological Park, where we still live today. Annie manages a kitchen garden and teaches children as a volunteer at a local NGO, where I also give free classes and help young artists in my spare time.
I started work on this Spirit of Angkor project on the first day we arrived in Cambodia, but it took me several years of dedicated research and experimentation to develop the techniques I would need to start making the images I envisioned. With this body of work, I attempt to communicate my emotional and spiritual response to these ancient temples, feelings of joy and wonder enriched by my experiences and travels, inspired by my childhood dreams of adventure. I hope that each piece tells a story, a tale that invokes the beauty and the mysteries of Angkor. But I also invite you, the viewer, to join me in finishing the story with your own experiences and emotions, with your own visions of ancient places and lost civilisations.
Lucas Varro, 2020