In an industrial pocket of Phnom Penh, just north of the Chroy Changvar bridge, Mark and Jefferson Huang have built a paradise for artists – and for the wannabes too hesitant until now to put themselves out there.
The Art Bar, which despite the name is not an actual bar, is in a gorgeous repurposed warehouse hidden from Street 45. Go through an industrial parking lot and to the right down an alley and visitors will find a sun-filled space with floor-to-ceiling windows and steel beams alongside easels and canvases ready and waiting for colour.
The two Filipino brothers are seemingly straight from central casting, with Jeff – a painter and street artist with tousled hair – the creative lead, and Mark – a more straight-laced businessman who also manages a garment factory – in charge of operations. The vision at The Art Bar is to connect professional artists and amateurs, initially through painting courses, but also in other media in the future.
“I’m not an artist – I never would have thought that I’d be painting in my life,” Mark says. “But the activity we’re offering is a way for us to bridge that gap between someone like me and the art world.”
For Jeff, who is one of two resident teachers at The Art Bar alongside celebrated local street artist Daniel Ou, the goal is to chip away at most people’s built-in barriers.
“First, it’s to breach that wall of ‘I can’t do it’. Actually, you can do it. Step by step we break it down how to build a composition, then it’s up to them what they feel,” he says “Some people come back, and I’ll say, ‘Let’s not do this anymore. Pick an image and let’s do something about you’. Are they getting into this? Then I’ll feed them more.”
While the main activities are “Sip ’n Paint” sessions – in which participants follow step-by-step instructions from a teacher on the basics, with a beverage for enhanced creativity – the Art Bar is also a venue for professionals or those looking to move beyond an amateur level.
It offers reasonable open studio rates to local artists, at just $49 each month, not including materials, and open sessions for people who want to come in and work on their own projects with a professional close at hand to give advice. A large canvas costs $100, including paint, and an artist can come back as many times as is necessary to finish a piece. A “Sip ’n Paint” course, meanwhile, is $25 per person for a two-hour session.
In the future, there will likely also be ceramics courses, though Jeff says fine-tuning in the instruction is needed since the “failure rate” is higher than for painting. Classes in other media, like photography, are also on the table in the future.
But for now, it’s a place for newbies to get creative and a potential home for local talent in a city with few large studios.
“Most of the artists we have just try to do things in their own home, which is not a very positive environment. If you put them around other artists they get inspired or they inspire others,” Mark said. “Come down here and collaborate and let’s brainstorm some s— and come up with something nice.”
The Art Bar is located at #225, Street 45. It is open every day from 10am until 9pm, with bookings available online at theartbarkh.com, or by phone at 088 529 9188 for English and 069 569 888 for Khmer.