Some people who have seen my paintings in an exhibit have said that the work express too much sadness, which they find, opposite from my happy, open hearted nature. For many Cambodians, my paintings are ugly. The people I paint have large eyes and funny gestures. They’re not pictures of smiling Cambodians. Definitely, they are not paintings of Angkor Wat or a beautiful Khmer woman in translucent shirt carrying a water jug. I paint portraitures of feelings, often in dark colors, experiences and significant events in my life.

Indeed, the paintings do express a certain degree of sadness because I am sad. Sometimes, while painting, I weep. Sometimes, while driving, I wail. I find little happiness merely existing on this planet, amidst all this human suffering hitting my face. While living in Cambodia, the poor were always hissing for change. I see people dying needlessly of AIDS. There are many orphans, land mine victims and homeless people. However much happiness there is in the world, I find little comfort in it. And certainly, there’s no comfort in sadness either.

Painting is one of the ways I can cope with the world. It’s one of the means I use to exorcise what I cannot put into words. It’s better to see things in colors and let go of things mixed together in paint than it is to express verbally to others. With painting, I can just let loose and experiment with all my senses working in silence. Whatever comes out comes out. The paint flows to form images of dream, life’s experiences, of people encountered, of stories untold, of lives in dire poverty, and of things I can’t explain to someone else.

I use a lot of dark colors because the world is full of contradictions, war and genocides. I see my people homeless, scavenging garbage, children living on the streets, in slums. After the Khmer Rouge, there was communism. After communism is a fledgling, but feudal democracy that doesn’t foresee a future without a few cashing in all the time and enjoying all the wealth they steal from the rest.

My paintings are what you make of them. They depict a state neither sadness nor joy. The eyes are usually large looking at you. You create the story behind the picture, the representational faces, the gesture and the yearning expressed in their eyes. Life is meaningless, task oriented mode of function, like machines, with emotion and feelings, always thinking about being fed through the mouth, not through the heart or the brain, full of these mundane tasks of survival, just as insects have function on the planet, to produce and be reproduced.

about the artist

Piersath Chath

Piersath Chath

Chath Piersath was born in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodia, in 1970. He is a poet and contemporary artist. Chath’s early work described his personal search to connect with the suffering of others in order to understand his own and to reconnect with the people that he lost as a child of war. Similarly, in his work with orphans and people affected by HIV and AIDS, Chath utilized art as a vehicle to help others and find a path for himself toward healing. His early work consisted of small portraits, portrays intimate characters from his own life, often with large eyes, tattered hope, broken by poverty and suffering. These simple portraits comprise a spontaneous diary, almost a stream of consciousness, reflecting his own naïve, obsessive and immediate need to tell his story in painting and drawing. His later works consist of collage, mixed media, using glue and found materials, wood blocks, newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes and tiles. For these works he cuts and tears images, combining them with paint, building up layered images that reflect his present search for meaning and purpose in the very unsettled social, economic and political environment of Cambodia, where he lives and works six months of the year. During the other six months, he lives and works on a farm in the United States, his adopted country, where he began his life as an artist piecing together memories and narratives. ‘Wallpaper’, a large scale mixed media collage installation, brings together a vast array of faces and narratives. Equally, in his painted series, 'Mental Blocks', he uses a number of individual cubes, each one usually depicting a singular painted face, to form a larger, more robust cubist form. In both works, Chath highlights the social injustice he sees while empowering people by bringing them together. He refers to this conscious act as being the antidote for how he sees people interacting today, where many are only concerned with ‘the hair on their own head’.

In ‘Stolen Narratives’, a series exhibited in 2010, he presents painted and collaged portraits made from photographs and other details he collected from the mass media.  His layering and re-assembling of mismatched facial features found in magazines or newspapers, purposely removes them from their initial context as saleable commodities and inserts them into the realm of abstraction. Awkward and anguished looking, these are not glorified depictions of beauty. With over-sized eyes, which beg for attention, they represent the unheard and disenfranchised in Cambodia.

At times, Chath fuses images of people, buildings and text ripped from magazines with painting to the extent that they are almost indistinguishable. This is an apt metaphor for Phnom Penh where the rate of change is so fast that people, rather than being considered as active individuals, have been subsumed by the changes. Together, these images comprise an attempt at articulating his evolving relationship with his homeland.

Chath’s art works have been shown at the Rhode Island Foundation Gallery (2003), the Whistler’s Museum of Lowell MA (2003), the Queen’s Gallery in Bangkok (2004), and in Kunming, China (2007).