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The ‘happy painter’: Stéphane Delaprée in his studio with some of his artworks.
The ‘happy painter’: Stéphane Delaprée in his studio with some of his artworks. Pha Lina

‘I’m quite afraid to fail’: Phnom Penh artist to take a bite out of the Big Apple

Phnom Penh “happy painter” Stéphane Delaprée makes his US debut this weekend at a commercial gallery in New York.

Delaprée, 57, said his inclusion in the Agora Gallery’s group exhibition, Contemporary Perspectives, would help his push into the international art market.

The gallery – located in Chelsea’s fine art district – specialises in connecting art dealers and collectors with national and international artists. The exhibition opens on Friday and runs until June 5.

Delaprée said: “I feel for me, that it is time, after 20 years in Cambodia, to start to try to be represented outside.

“The American art market is great. I feel the Occident [Western world] can help me to be reborn, if I accept the fact that there is another life after Cambodia.”

He added: “It is a test. I send just a few pieces, but big.”

The Agora Gallery said in a press release: “Contemporary Perspectives highlights the exciting and innovative nature of art today, with each artist bringing their unique point of view and feel for the zeitgeist to their work.”

Fourteen artists will have work in the exhibition including Iran’s Pouneh Asli, Russia’s Semen Eruntsov, Holland’s Liedeke Bulder and the US’s Susan Marx.

French-born Delaprée, who moved to Cambodia in 1994, is one of the country’s most commercially successful artists. The self-dubbed “happy-painter” has three shops in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh selling his brightly coloured, cartoon-style scenes of Cambodian life.

“Through figurative motifs and bright and flashy colors I try to infuse a joyful, healing quality into every painting,” he said.

“Now I am working on [timeless] and universal subjects, but I choose to send to New York a few large-size paintings on canvas, from my series depicting happy Cambodia.

“At once fragile and powerful, these artworks portray a universe that connects an admirer to this mysterious and beautiful far away kingdom.”

Delaprée said his paintings were not meant to be intellectual or realistic but rather were personal visions of love inspired by the country in which he lived.

“My painting is another thing than depicting a country or a society, it is magic,” he said.

“All painters know that there is more to a picture than what gets to the eye; and while staring at my healing paintings, it seems that we could not resist the thought that in the glistening of colours and profusion of forms, one could also hear a simple but powerful message.

“It is a message of hope, a reminder of the pure beauty and fragility of the world.”

Delaprée last year complained that cheap copies of his work being sold by street vendors, souvenir stores and markets stalls were undermining his business and said he would have to close his Sisowath Quay shop.

However, he has since changed his mind.

“The FCC [Foreign Correspondents Club] decided to offer me a better rental deal, so I stay,” he said. “But, still, business is up and down.

“My goal from last year is the same: have specialists who help me promoting my art everywhere and find art galleries from around the world taking care of my artworks. And perhaps open a bigger size gallery where I can create in situ.”

Delaprée has previously had solo exhibitions in India and Canada and in group exhibitions in Malaysia and Singapore.

He was recently invited to send work to the Art Naif Festiwal in Poland, which runs June 13 to August 14, and another New York gallery has expressed interest in exhibiting his work.

Delaprée – who said he was “shy” and wouldn’t attend the New York exhibition in person – said he dreamed of having several galleries around the world promoting his work but had mixed feelings about this new phase of his career.

“I feel full of hope for my future,” he said. “And to tell you the truth, I am quite afraid to fail too.”

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