HIS vivid imagery, abstract expression and contemporary artworks revolving around the past tragedies and the celebration of hope and passion for nature, bestows Nou Sary (photo) with the title of Cambodia’s first “Impressionist artist”. His fine artwork of “Harvest Alone”, “Threshing Time” to “In the Morning” captures the essence of the intrinsic value in nature and the depiction of Cambodia’s real life story in the harvest season. His collection of masterpieces has been recognised worldwide: in 2005 he was decorated with a Bronze Medal from Society of French Artists in Paris. Som Kanika caught up with him recently for an EXCLUSIVE interview on his journey in the arts.
GT2: Can you describe your background and your journey as an artist?
Nou Sary: I am originally from Kandel province and I was born in 1972 into a rural rice farming family with six siblings. Farming and harvesting rice to support the family until I was 12 years old… that was the moment I made a life-changing decision to find my own dream. In 1974, I left my hometown and came to Phnom Penh City with a dream to pursue a higher education. But back then, Phnom Penh was a new land to me and I had no home here so I sought hope as an orphan. Living in the orphanage and working as a security guard at night, I pulled out all stops to study Art at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and kept my nose to the grindstone to graduate in 2000.
I was selected to further my higher National Diploma of Fine Arts in French from 2001 to 2006 in the Sain-Etienne school of Fine Art in France. When funding ceased in 2003, I multi-tasked by training to be a chef in a Japan restaurant in order to support my studies till I received the diploma of Fine Arts in 2006.
GT2: When was the moment you realised your ambition of becoming an artist?
Nou Sary: I knew I was born to love art since I was young. Probably at age of 12 in the orphanage. Learning calligraphy for the first time, I found myself so obsessed with its beautiful lines and curves. Then the passion and obsession made me develop more in various types of drawings. Making an artwork is not a piece of cake, it is all about trial and mistakes, you need to master resilience and persistence, but I can challenge this when I endured the patience and run through all the practices just to create better art.
GT2: What does art mean to you?
Nou Sary: Art can be anything, its beauty or power is defined by different perspectives of people. Art can vary according to different kinds of culture that people are living in. The world, itself, is an art. In painting and drawing, art can be divided into wide range of types from visual art, contemporary art, impressionist art and abstract art and many more. Even though you are being called a great artist, that doesn’t mean you can draw any kind of art. Each one of them deems endless of practice and unique talent to master it.
GT2: What is the concept of value in art for people in the west and our nation’s definition of art?
Nou Sary: The value people give to art is based on the how much they can understand and associate themselves with the beauty and the meaning of art. My artworks revolve more on self-expression and not many people are able to understand it without the given explanation. Freedom of Expression in art is one of the fundamental factors that liberates our creative ideas to express the abstract concept and that’s the difference between ours and western society.
GT2: Where do you draw inspiration from when creating an artwork?
Nou Sary: With most of my work in the different disciplines, the body and dance are my primary inspiration while in painting, I use the colours of fruits and fruit juices as my aspiration. My body is at the centre of the action. I see and I paint. Most of my painting revolves around the nature. I hold the belief that nature and human cannot be separated from each other. We cannot live apart from the nature because we are hundred percent dependent on nature. Each painting has its own story to tell. Most of the time, I arrive at the place and take a picture, then I’m trying to sympathise with the scene as much as possible.
GT2: When was your first exhibition?
Nou Sary: The first exhibition I held was in 1999 and it was wood-cut art. Then I was taught contemporary art. I used the combination of western and Cambodian styles to create my own art. For example, one of my artwork is Ma Mère which means “My mom”.
GT2: Are you ever satisfied with yourself and your artwork?
Nou Sary: Genuinely, I still haven’t been proud much of my own achievements yet. I think I haven’t reached my goal of becoming an artist yet. Even though my successes have been fruitful so far in terms of promoting the value of contemporary art to my nation, as well as in France. My proudest moment will be when the world can identify Khmer artwork
GT2: What kind of principles do most artists need to hold on to — to become a fine and great one?
Nou Sary: One thing we know for sure is that being artists, each one of us defines the concept of art differently and the way we draw and produce each of our masterpiece is also different from one another. However, whatever creativity we draw upon, we should not copy from the other without crediting the original drawer. And another principle the young generation needs to realise too is that ‘practice makes perfect’. The more effort you pour into your artwork, the quicker you are able to master in that field and that’s the first fundamental rule all young artists must learn. Furthermore, being an artist, you need to know how to do research and read more, keep learning about new things, study and explore the previous artworks of our ancestors as well as those of other cultures too.