Blending architecture with drawing, the 25-year-old has attracted a following in the Kingdom.
More than 300 friends and fans crowded into the first floor lounge of the Mito Hotel on Monday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the 70 pieces of original artwork by Ranon Phal.
Still a student at the famous Brera Academy in Milan, which he has attended on full scholarship since 2012, the 25-year-old artist is back in the kingdom for Easter break for his first show in his homeland.
Phal has taken an extraordinary journey to get to this point. He was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer in 2009 and was brought to Italy to undergo treatment through a friend’s support. While he spent his lonely hospital days under the care of Italian doctors, Phal found solace in the beauty of the historic buildings around him. The cancer was a wake up call for him to live his life to the fullest. Having beaten his illness later that year, he returned to his family in Cambodia as a healthy man, but he swore to once again visit Italy to learn more about the country’s art and architecture.
In 2012, Phal finished eight months of tortuous paperwork and interviews before he was able to go back to Milan. There he has flourished as an artist, learning new techniques and benefiting from the resources available to him in Italy. But he felt isolated as the only Cambodian student in his school. Living in a homestay with an elderly Italian couple and speaking basic Italian, he kept mostly to himself. He threw his energy into his art and made a living by doing commission work drawing people’s homes and other buildings. One piece could fetch him roughly 1,800 euros (more than $2.000).
Born in Battambang, he spent most of his childhood in Kompong Chhnang. As the youngest son of three boys and a fraternal twin, Phal had a supportive family. But he was only eight years old when his father passed away. A carpenter, his father left behind old notebooks full of designs for houses and furniture. Starting at nine years old, Phal buried himself in his artwork, locking himself in his room to doodle images of buildings and people, deep into the night.
With this as inspiration, he later tried to pursue architecture, but found himself struggling with the mathematical methods behind it. Inspired by other Cambodian artists like renowned sculptor, Pich Sopheap and by the growing street art scene in Phnom Penh, Phal was inspired to pursue drawing.
* * *
Phal’s first exhibit showcases displays doodles of Hanuman masks and intricate drawings of iconic buildings in Phnom Penh – all works he wants to display but at the moment not to sell. “I want people to keep creating,” he said. “This [exhibit] is mostly for Cambodia’s young people who love art – that’s why admission was free.”
With techniques using ink brushes, watercolors, pencils, oil and acrylic, Phal is most known for his depictions of Phnom Penh’s iconic places. His doodles are both whimsical, while also featuring intricate architectural details.
“It’s a new type of artwork in Cambodia, icons like the National Museum, White Building, Phsar O’russei and other places are the pride of Phnom Penh,” he says.
After he finishes school in Italy next year, Phal plans to open his own studio in Phnom Penh, where he feels artists are beginning to emerge.
A flyer for Phal’s exhibit at Hotel Mito. Photo: Supplied