One day in 2000, in a forest some 100km from the Battambang town, a young boy was aiming his slingshot at a magpie balancing itself on a branch of a big tree. For the 12-year-old Chhoeun Channy, the bird, along with other wild animals, is no more than food for his poor family, who had moved here the previous year to farm a piece of land given by the government.
Despite spending his childhood in the wild somewhat like Tarzan or Mowgli, Channy depicted his exceptional artistic talent through the pictures he drew on dirt and his schoolbooks. In 2006, Channy’s father, who perceived this aptitude and hoped for a better life for his son, sent him to Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit art school in the province.
As the youth was being absorbed into the field of visual art, he realised that the greenery and wildlife surrounding him are much more than vegetable and meat. They are in fact the objects of beauty which have captivated artists for centuries. It was not long before they become Channy’s favourite model. At the same time, he also learned to attached underlying messages and meaning into them. He tested this combo in his first solo exhibition in 2016, and it was a huge success.
“I put wildlife in my painting not only because they are beautiful but also because I want to call for their protection before it is too late,” Channy told Good Times 2 at the opening of his second solo exhibition Out of Control, held at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeetra on Monday this week.
“In this exhibition, the main object is wild birds. Of course, they are beautiful, but I also create them because I wanted to ask for forgiveness from the souls of the bird I killed with my slingshot in the forest I lived in.”
The 14 acrylic and watercolour paintings being displayed in the Sofitel’s Gallery are a way by which the artist expresses his frustrations on societal and environmental issues. For instance, Bigger Than Me, an acrylic-on-canvas depicting a magpie carrying an empty beer can flying past the Buddha, criticises the promotion of alcoholism in Cambodia, while Feeding, showing a plain prinia feeding a key to its offspring, shows Channy’s concern about the world’s natural environment being polluted with waste.
“The paintings are so detailed, and the birds almost look alive to me,” says Jean Morel, the event coordinator of Recreation and the man behind Out of Control. “Such a professional element is what I like best, but what even special is that the artworks are showing the damage we are causing to our society and the natural environment
Asked to comment on Channy’s works, Nou Sary, an award-winning artist and a veteran in the field, says he is impressed by the masterpieces, which he describes as “the blend of realism and contemporary arts”.
“Channy’s paintings are beautiful at one glance but as you look longer at them longer, you will understand the numerous message they are conveying,” Sary says. “This is how art should be and I am so proud that there is such a great artist to paint Cambodia.”
Out of Control exhibition is open for free to the public for three months. The paintings can be purchased, and the prices range from $1,560 to $7500. A catalogue can be found inside the gallery of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeetra.