Mark Jefferson Huang (aka Jeff) believes that being an artist is not limited to those born with special aptitude or having spent years in art school. He claims that everyone possesses an ability which, when combined with passion and a little guidance, allows them to become an artist. This credence led the Filipino self-taught artist to build the Art Bar, a popular art studio that offers a fun and unique way to express artistic creativity, while sipping wine for inspiration. Taing Rinith meets with Jeff to discuss his venture.
GT2: Can you tell us briefly about yourself?
Jeff: I was born in Manila, the Philippines but I grew up in Hong Kong. I dropped out of high school about 10 years ago to follow painting, which is my real passion. I did not go to art school but I taught myself to paint, mostly through YouTube videos. I’ve been working as an artist for years now.
GT2: What led you to open the Art Bar in Cambodia?
Jeff: Before I started the Art Bar, I had been an artist for six years, making and selling paintings. Then suddenly, I got tired of it. People bought my paintings and simply hanged them on their walls. So what is the meaning? I was making money, but I was not really happy because I was not contributing anything to the world or the art scene. I always wanted to teach. Meanwhile, my brother, a businessman, is living here. I decided to come here in December 2017 to set up a place where I can help people discover their artistic ability and express it.
GT2: What is the overall concept and function of the Art Bar?
Jeff: It is an art and a bar, but it is mostly art. It is a creative workshop and platform where people can create their own artworks under the guidance of a professional artist, which they can bring home. One class costs 25 dollars, but of course, we supply everything. Students can also choose to subscript to the Summer Course, which cost 250 dollars and allow them to come for 30 days.
The paints, canvas and brushes are high-quality, imported products because we want our students to bring home the best artworks they’ve ever created. We also have pottery class. Of course, they can order liquor and spirit to sip while crafting their artwork although the “bar” is probably only for me.
GT2: What inspired you to create this place?
Jeff: I think everybody can paint and craft artworks. When I started painting, I sucked at it. Like really bad. But, the difference is that while some people may say, “Oh, I will never paint again.”, I said, “No, I am going to learn and I am going to be better.” The beginning of my career is very simple.
GT2: Do you think many people agree with you on the part about “becoming an artist without going to art school”?
Jeff: I am sure yes. I am sure you have seen kids, who are still in high school, already have their art accounts, right? Technically, you do not need to go to an art school to create art.
GT2: So what do you think people need to create art?
Jeff: Idea is the first thing. For an artist, coming up with an idea could be very difficult. Painting itself is easy. And then when you start doing it, you have to be totally committed to it. A real artist does not need to buy paint or brushes. They just use what’s around them, and they can paint.
GT2: Who are your clients? How do they react to your instructions?
Jeff: 95 percent of the students are Cambodians. They come here to sketch and paint or craft pottery. However, most of time, they come here out of curiosity. ‘What is the Art Bar?’ they ask. Majority of our students are girls and women. I do not know why, maybe girls are more interested in art than men. When a man comes here, it is usually because he has to accompany his date.
Many of them had not even touched a brush, but they come here and have fun. I help them to start from zero. I assist them in planning the paintings, allowing them a finish each in only a few hours. Then they ask, “What’s next?” and come back to do another painting.
GT2: What kind of art are you focusing here?
Jeff: I am a contemporary artist, but I motivate the students here to follow their ideas and creativities. But, almost everything is about passion. Yet, also at the same time, it is about communication and interaction.
GT2: Have you held exhibitions here?
Jeff: Yes. Actually, we used to do it here a lot before, almost once a month. But, now we have a lot of friends who own galleries, so we hold exhibitions in their galleries because our place is so far. The exhibitions, meanwhile, are not held for money but they are for me to give back. I always feature Khmer artists, and I support the materials and everything.
The Art Bar is located at #225, Street 45, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh.