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Nov Cheanick: From Humble Beginnings to Transcendent Art


Nov Cheanick, a Battambang-based painter, is pictured in front of his own painting at TINI café in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 27, 2017. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

Although modern art is little known in Cambodia, Nov Cheanick hopes his work can inspire Cambodians.

Battambang is best known as Cambodia’s second city and a hub of free expression, the home of numerous artists, musicians, and writers.

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, this world was almost snuffed out, but four decades later the arts scene in Battambang is thriving and has produced yet another multi-talented son: Nov Cheanick.

Cheanick is a young contemporary painter based in Battambang province. At just 28 years old, he has already had his works featured in galleries overseas, including in the United States, France, and Hong Kong.

His pieces blend the modern with traditional Cambodian themes. Earlier this year, his painting series, “Breaking the System”, was showcased at the Sangker Gallery in Battambang, while his collection “Rain” was displayed at Java Cafe in Phnom Penh.

Cheanick was born in 1989 in the Site 2 refugee camp before moving to Battambang province aged three. He worked in Thailand before getting into art to earn money for the family. He quit high school at 13 to join the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school in 2003.

“Cheanick is in my eyes one of the most talented artists in Cambodia.” Davy Chou, a young Cambodian-French filmmaker, wrote on his Facebook page ahead of the opening of “A Small Part,” a series paintings by Cheanick.

“A Small Part,”a series paintings by Nov Cheanick are on display at TINI café in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 27, 2017. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)
“A Small Part,”a series paintings by Nov Cheanick are on display at TINI café in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 27, 2017. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

Modern art is little known in Cambodia, but Cheanick hopes his work can inspire Cambodians.

Sophea Young, a researcher, loves the fact that Cheanick was a rebel at heart and used his art to express his desire for freedoms. “He usually breaks the rules taught by his teachers and develops something more interesting.”

As well as painting, Cheanick can also sing and play the guitar, as he did at the opening of another exhibition last month, wearing ripped black jeans and a hippy-style t-shirt.

He has also become something of a celebrity after starring in Diamond Island, an award-winning Cambodian film released last year.

Despite the brush with fame, Cheanick is adamant he does not want to quit painting for the silver screen, despite the larger income.

"For me, I am doing something so small to point out the direction for the next generation who wants to walk on the same path. It is a small example from me,” he said.

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