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All eyes on self-taught artist


SELF-TAUGHT painter Thang Sothea and art students from creative school Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang will open their joint exhibition at the French Culture Centre (CCF) in Phnom Penh on Thursday at 7pm.

An architecture and urban planning graduate from Norton University, Thang Sothea, 28, says that his exhibition is comprised of 49 paintings – all of which depict faces in extreme close-up. He calls his series Meul Khniom, or Look at Me.

“I called this painting series Look at Me because I like the meaning reflecting between paintings and viewers. Actually, the paintings beg you to look at them, but viewers probably feel the paintings are looking back at them too.”

This is Thang Sothea’s second exhibition after his series on the male form exhibited last August at Meta House in Phnom Penh. That exhibition, titled Happy Together, sold many paintings to the Men’s Resort and Spa in Siem Reap province.  

“My first works had limited appeal ... since they were about naked men gesturing, but my paintings [in this exhibition] are aimed at everybody,” said the artist.    

This latest series of faces and eyes arrests the viewer with it’s striking colours and bold composition.

“I want ... people to see my works, my creative ideas, and my techniques such as adding scars of cracked paint or flows to the surface.”

Students in their third or fourth year studying art at PPS will also display their works in a group exhibition called Neak Mean Thmey, or The Newly Rich Men. Each has a canvas just 80 centimetres square to work on, yet the results are startling in their difference.

Heuy Sokunthea, 22, who attended the painting class at PPS for three years, said that her art class decided on the topic, but each student tackled it from a different angle.

Heuy Sokunthea chose to satirise the nouveau riche, painting an expensive American-made car with the brand name Hummer. She explained that her humour might bypass Cambodia’s new moneyed classes, who often drove cars bearing fake licence plates saying RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Forces). “As I see in our society, rich people often use the RCAF plates on their cars and drive anywhere with no worries,” said Heuy Sokunthea.

“I know not many people working in the government can afford to buy Hummers, so only excessively rich people would drive such an expensive car.”

She added collages of abstract papers to her painting, creating a canvas of many colours, symbolising the fact that the rich can paint their car any shade they want. The name of her painting? Power.

Fellow student Muny Chhun Neang, 17,  said he chose to paint a portrait of a girl making up her face with expensive brands of beauty products. He even showed United States currency next to her to portray that she preferred to use greenbacks over Cambodian riels.

“I think newly rich women like make-up, putting fruit masks and painting other beauty products on their face. They dye their hair blond and their lives are so stylish,” he said. Chhun Neang also used acrylic paints on canvas, but added shiny textures on the girl’s face and even stitches to add depth. He said this was his first painting for an official exhibition in Phnom Penh, so he liked it more than his previous paintings.

“I’m not the kind of person to criticise anyone, but I’d love to show this picture to all girls. After they see it, they might think, consider and reflect on their own body.”

This exhibition is the first of the new year at the CCF and will run until January 29.

The CCF is located at 218, Street 184, Phnom Penh.

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