Cambodia’s contemporary arts scene is flourishing with the growing presence of a legion of talented artists – some of them self-taught and having braved years of struggle to gain acknowledgment of their work.
One of these emerging artists – Nak Noy – started with only a pencil and a notebook, drawing imaginary doodle-style figures that the more conservative people in his hometown would never consider as art.
Noy kept some of his best drawings for his personal portfolio, which he took to show to different curators around Cambodia and one of them gave him an opportunity to shine at a gallery in 2018.
“I was more than happy to finally expose what I’ve got to the world for the very first time. It was a huge success and it helped make who I am today because through that exhibition I was found by Tribe Cambodia and I joined their line-up of talented international artists,” the Siem Reap-based artist says.
His passion for art started when he was in kindergarten and he would spend most of his time covering his notebook with different drawings that were technically beyond what the average child that age would normally be capable of.
Noy believes that it was his inner-passion for creativity that led him to becoming an artist because it allowed him to stay true to himself even though he initially wasn’t earning money or respect from the community-at-large.
Noy tells The Post that he always knew that he loved drawing but he wasn’t sure if he was good enough to make it his life’s work.
“Ever since I was in kindergarten, I just picked up my pencil and drew on everything. I’ve always known that I’m in love with art, but I was still hesitant to go for it,” Noy says.
After graduating from high school Noy was working as a receptionist rather than continue with his studies. His friends and others who had been trying to motivate him to pursue an art career were disappointed with his decision and thought he had missed out on a crucial part of his life.
“After my high school graduation in 2016, I was still uncertain about what I really wanted to do. I tried searching for fine arts universities but what I found was an ancient kind of classical style of art that’s really not my cup of tea. My art is more of a contemporary style,” Noy recalls.
Noy had a long term plan and in the back of his head he was still determined to make his dream of becoming an artist come true regardless of his studies. As he continued to work he always made sure to spare plenty of time to practice his drawing.
The journey to becoming a professional artist is never easy. Noy’s unique artistic style clearly demonstrated that he had a huge amount of talent, but people often react negatively at first to things that are new and unfamiliar.
From 2016 to 2018, Noy worked on his portfolio and built up his collection of drawings, remaining patient and waiting for the right moment until finally he had ten amazing pieces that he decided to use as his introduction to the art world.
“I carried these ten artworks with me from place to place in Siem Reap and even tried contacting galleries in Phnom Penh, looking for a place to showcase my work. I received no responses. I kept seeking and finally I was welcomed in a little café calls Red Fox Espresso to exhibit there for three months,” Noy explains.
The 21-year-old is now a full-time artist for Tribe Cambodia Contemporary Art Gallery. He has exhibited his work to wider audiences nine times now in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and – including limited prints – has sold over a hundred pieces.
Almost all of the buyers are foreigners and some are his expat friends who have always shown him a great deal of support.
Noy says his patrons have told him that they love the fact that each piece of art has its own story and meaning and that they tend to be very versatile and easily fit in with any style of home decor.
Noy’s artworks are distinctive and vibrant contemporary pieces with a 3D-doodle fantasy style using a subdued palette of blues and greens. Most of his works involve human figures while also reflecting nature by utilising patterns that combine leaves, flowers and rubies.
The highest price Nak Noy piece currently available in the Tribe gallery has a price tag of $5,000. The two-by-two metre painting is entitled Mother Earth. Noy says that this is the piece that he is most proud of currently because it perfectly reflects the latest evolution of his unique style of fantasy art that springs forth from natural elements.
As an artist, Noy says that he likes to create art with themes that reflect what is happening in society and recently he has been creating work that examines how society relates to and depicts girls and women.
“I get a lot of inspiration from my mom. I’ve seen her work so hard for our family and that makes me want to depict her story in my art to show appreciation for how diligently she has worked her whole life out of love for us,” Noy says.
As his art began to progress, Noy decided to attend the art school at the Battambang non-profit Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organisation whose mission is to provide a nurturing and creative environment where young people can access quality arts training, education and social support to help restore the culture and identity of Cambodia that was damaged or destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years.
Unfortunately, only one and a half months into his education there, Covid shut down the school – at least for now. That is why Noy still considers himself to be a self-taught artist, but Noy is excited about what the future holds for him.
“I am more than thankful that I am finally living my childhood dream. Being an artist also provides me with a platform to speak out and give my opinions on society and things that matter through my art,” he says.
Noy says it’s hard to plan big things in the middle of a pandemic – especially doing any shows overseas – but it is still definitely a goal for him and something he is working to achieve.
“Therefore, all I have to do for now is keep creating art. I want to spread my name overseas, and we’re working on that. I hope there is a chance to get involved with the fashion world because I really want to bring my designs to life that way.
“I’d like to tell the younger generation who have just entered into the art world to be patient. I’ve seen most of them are eager to have their artworks sold right away after each one is completed, but that’s not how it works. It requires years for people to learn about your art and accept it into their hearts,” Noy says.
For more information about Nak Noy he can be contacted via his Facebook page @naknoy.art.