Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rocky times as artists wed styles

Rocky times as artists wed styles

Rocky times as artists wed styles

Phin Sophorn and Mao Soviet in front of one of their works. Photo by: MICHAEL SLOAN

When Mao Soviet married his longtime girlfriend and fellow artist Phin Sophorn in Battambang earlier this year, he thought they would be able to live together, but never paint together.

That was until he approached Siem Reap gallery owner Loven Ramos about staging an exhibition of his work at Hotel 1961. Ramos agreed – but with a catch.

“Loven said to me ‘Okay, I’ll give you an exhibition as a couple.’  I said ‘What’s a couple?’ He said, ‘It means you and Sophorn are both artists, so why not work together?’ And I was like, ‘But why work together?’ Then I thought okay I’ll try, but inside my head I was thinking ‘oh no...’”

And after months of minor arguments, make-ups, and flying paintbrushes, the result is now on display at Hotel 1961, as part of Man & Wife: an exhibition of 11 paintings by the couple, including three from Soviet, four from Sophorn, and three the pair did together.

During a walking tour of the exhibition, Soviet explained that the process of working with Sophorn was rocky at first, with their first joint painting taking over a month to complete.

“She has her own technique and style. They always say, ‘Oh when people live together their technique and style become the same.’ But we never had that, and when she and I painted together it was very difficult. For example, she always wants to have more detail on the canvas, and I would say, ‘This is not art, this is just painting. In art you need to express yourself and put the feeling in the work,’ but she would say, ‘Oh no, I need beauty, I need detail.’”

Chiming in from a nearby bench, Sophorn concurred.

“A lady always wants something that is beautiful and creative,” she said. “For me I think it looks good, but in other eyes, it doesn’t.”

Despite the arguments that went into making the paintings, they look like the product of two minds perfectly in sync, with the joint works of Mao and Sophorn showing scenes of them together during their eight year courtship, after they met as students at the Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang in 2006.

“Before we got married we lived together and people always wanted to know, ‘Hey you’re not married yet, why are you living together?’” Soviet said. “In my culture, unmarried people are not supposed to live together. We did it because we want to change Khmer culture a little bit. Before people get married they have to know each other. It’s for the good of the couple.”

After the month-long struggle to complete their first joint painting, Soviet and Sophorn sat down and decided that a more efficient way to go about the exhibition was to divide the work between them, with each artist doing a segment in their own style.

This approach yielded mixed results.

“So we got ready, we sat down together and we talked about what parts we wanted to paint, and Sophorn would say ‘Okay I’ll paint the face in my style, you do the clothes and background in your style.’ But when she paints, it’s very boring because she keeps doing more and more, and I’d go, ‘When are you finished?’ And she would say ‘Give me more time,’ and I’d say ‘okay, okay, okay.’”

“After that,” Soviet continued, “I would have finished my half, all the background, and she would say ‘Oh this colour is not good, I need more bright colours.’ And I would have to change it again. I would just think to myself ‘Oh no, oh no.’”

When Sophorn pointed out that she actually enjoyed working with her husband on the exhibition, Soviet reluctantly agreed, saying the process got easier as time wore on and the exhibition deadline approached.  

Soon they’ll be working together again, during this year’s Angkor Art Explo, with the pair participating in a bike ride from Battambang to Siem Reap along with other local and international artists, something that Soviet said he is looking forward to.

“I like doing things with Sophorn, but maybe not working on the same painting. I remember when I first met her I liked her smile. Actually I really love her smile, and she smiles when she concentrates on her work. This is the first thing I loved about her. Her smile is wonderful.”


  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’