Thang Sothea experimented with Khmer calligraphy in two of his earlier series of paintings, Look At Me and Don’t Be Shy, but now he has embraced the Khmer script as a full blown art form in his latest exhibition, Khmerographies.
The new series of 25 acrylic paintings was launched last night at Top Art Gallery, and the exhibition will run until November 13.
All of the paintings are shaped from Khmer scripts, and he taught himself to work in this style after ceasing work as an architectural designer for a private company.
Thang Sothea, a graduate in Architecture and Urban Planning from Norton University in Phnom Penh, said, “The main theme is to focus on family, dancing, music, theatre, religion, society, and environment. But the special thing about these paintings is that I used Khmer script to shape them as pictures. For instance, I painted a picture of Buddha. I just wrote the word ‘Buddha’ in Khmer and made it into a picture of Buddha.
“I applied a few Khmer scripts in earlier exhibitions, but in this exhibition the whole series of paintings is just Khmer scripts.
“Many people know Latin, Chinese, or Arabic script, but not Khmer scripts, so I had the idea to paint the Khmer script as pictures.”
Thang Sothea explained that it was not an easy form to master, because most Khmer scripts are circular and complicated. So he has had to work step by step; otherwise, the pictures do not suit the concept.
At first he draws quick hand-written work on small white paper. Then he looks for a background colour to fit the calligraphy. and starts work on the big canvas.
“I didn’t have painting experience from school. So most tactics I apply on the background of my paintings came out accidentally, after I tried various colours and various tools. Sometimes, I wasted up to four canvases to make a good background,” he said.
“If you take a quick look at one of my pictures about music, you will see it’s a three-string long-neck guitar. But if you look at it for longer, you will see other things. You will see lyrics that are readable. You will see the performer, and you can read the name of the guitar, the chapei, in Khmer. Near the chapei I put black glasses, so Cambodian people will perceive immediately that the painting shows the reality of Cambodian society, because most Cambodian chapei performers wear black glasses because they are blind.”
In a nod to the complexity of his work, easily understood paintings are at the entrance of the gallery, leading to the more complicated works further inside.