Growing up in poverty, Soun Vincent never had an opportunity to properly sharpen his talents through a formal art education.
But this has not stopped the instinctive, self-taught Cambodian artist – who now lives in Des Moines, the state capital of Iowa in the US – from developing his talents over the years, from his roots in painting to his work now in the burgeoning world of digital animation.
Born in 1987 to a poor family in Oddor Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district, Vincent was the oldest son of the three children.
With the Kingdom still enduring civil war in the border regions – including in Vincent’s own province – his family was forced to move frequently to escape the turmoil when he was a young boy.
Despite none of his family members having any interest in art, the young Vincent found refuge from his turbulent upbringing through his pencils, as he illustrated the escapist wonders of his imagination on paper.
“I’ve loved painting since I was 11 years old. After school I would spend most of my free time learning how to draw on my own,” Vincent tells The Post.
His dreams of pursuing art formally at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh were scuppered as his family struggled to subsist on their meagre livelihood. Instead, he earned money to support his family after a painter from a local gallery offered him a job and informal training when he saw Vincent’s potential as an artist.
“From 2005 to 2006 I worked at an art gallery, this is where I learned more about oil painting with direction from an elder painter called Mok Ravy,” he says.
In 2009, Vincent married and decided to start a completely new life from scratch in Des Moines. With the higher cost of living in the US, Vincent was forced to give up his painting.
But his artistic flair could not be contained for long, so in 2014, when his life in the US stabilised, he began taking an interest in Youtube videos explaining digital art.
“Starting in 2014, I began spending a lot of time learning about digital arts from Youtube – mostly because it’s easier and I don’t need to spend much money on supplies,” he says.
Armed with only his two computer screens and Photoshop, the 32-year-old has now created many amazing illustrations that have gone viral on Facebook, and is celebrated back home for helping spread Cambodian culture globally.
Since 2014, he has produced some 45 pieces of digital art. Whenever he shares these pieces on social media, they receive a hugely positive response he says. This, Vincent adds, has made him finally feel like a true artist.
“I started painting on my own in 2001, but I never felt or considered myself to be a true painter at all. That is until this year after I’ve begun receiving so much love and support from everyone.
“A lot of people support my artwork every time I post on Facebook, that’s what has motivated me to try and do a lot of research for more ideas,” says Vincent, whose work is inspired by the Angkor Empire – which dates from the 9th to the 15th century CE.
One of his pieces portrays the great ancient Angkor warriors with armour, shields, spears and archery bows. It took him 32 hours to complete.
“My main aim is to provide new creations that show the action and outfits from the Angkor period that other artists haven’t done yet. I mostly focus on the Angkor period, I love to draw about what happened during that time.”
For research, Vincent has made trips to Siem Reap province to study the Angor Watt temple carvings. He has also carefully sampled the clothing and jewellery from that time to make his digital illustrations engaging.
“I hope Cambodian people know about this era. Even though the accessories might not be totally accurate, it is a picture that shows our culture back in ancient times. We will gradually lose it bit by bit if we don’t recreate it and show people our historical and cultural heritage,” he says.
But despite the significant time investment he places into his hobby, Vincent does not hesitate to share his work with the public for free.
“I don’t really earn anything from this to be honest, but it’s ok, I have a job that gives me enough to support my family already. I do this to entertain myself and spread Cambodian culture abroad,” he says.