When teenage artist Nin Men exhibited at Meta House in April, she had barely been painting for a year. Before then the 18-year-old Phnom Penh native enjoyed doodling during class, but nothing compared to the lush portraits and pencil drawings she produced after enrolling in a school art class. One of six children, Nin found no shortage of models in her immediate family, as well as a world of inspiration in contemporary art.
Now the talented high school graduate is off overseas to study architecture, a compromise between her new found love and a more stable career path. It also falls into the family trade, as her parents own a construction store. But just how easy is it for a young artist to follow their passion?
Were you encouraged to be creative at home?
At first [my family] didn’t understand why I had to do it, but as time goes on I think they got used to the fact I needed to spend eight hours on an art piece. They’re not against it. They support me if I like it.
Which artists inspire you?
I find inspiration through Andy Warhol and Banksy – he’s based in the UK and I’d love to meet him. I really like street art. I think graffiti is a great source of art for this generation. I would look through the internet for street art, because in Cambodia it’s hard to find.
Did you have other friends who painted?
At Northbridge International School we had an art class and in my class there were four of us. We each have individual techniques and tastes. For me, I really like colour and portraits.
You have a talent for portraiture, in both traditional and a more expressionist style. Who do you choose to paint and why?
Most of them are friends and I did one of my grandma. Some are of my siblings, because it’s hard to get models here. I did one of my brother and one of my sister because they’re closest to me and in my artwork I like to express who they are. In real life they’re so vivacious and inspiring. My brother is into fashion and he loves expressing himself so I chose colour to express his painting. My little sister is young so I used childlike techniques.
Was it hard to paint from home?
For the class we had to produce 24 pieces in one year, and they had to be quality pieces, so I did have to work at home, sometimes eight hours on a painting, maybe on the weekend.
I do enjoy that. In Cambodia it’s difficult to finance your life on just art. But I enjoy it, that’s why I do it. I think in the future I’m going into architecture, but it’s still an artform. Still, I would love to have a career in art because I think it’s what my passion is in. I think architecture is more of a way to earn a living.
What do you do when you’re caught by inspiration?
My teacher would say you would sketch first and you have a process to follow, which I think is better than what I would like to do – which is sit down and quickly do it all. But I think most of the time I just have a simple sketch and an idea and then do it right away. It takes time to be inspired.
Will you be able to continue your art when you go to England to study architecture?
I promised my art teacher we would have a joint exhibition together next year. So I guess I’ll work on some art pieces to bring back so we can have it.