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.