PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) – Gifted with the ability to paint hyper-realistic oil paintings – so good some have doubted their authenticity – the enigmatic Khmer artist known only as the ‘King of Painting’ has risen in recent years to become one of the Kingdom’s most celebrated up-and-coming artists.
With more than 102,000 likes on his official Facebook page , the 31-year-old painter – who prefers to keep his real name a secret – is attracting admirers among the rich and famous, and the general public alike, who request he draw or paint their portrait.
His commissions cost anywhere between USD10 to USD2,000 and he has one condition with clients – there must be no deadline.
“My paintings depend on my mood and feeling. For this reason, I will not accept an order with a tight deadline. I stand by my rule and trust my feelings to do my best rather than meeting tight deadlines. My work has always left my clients very satisfied,” he told The Post.
Born into a poor family of seven children in Kampong Speu Province’s Udong district, the King of Painting has earned money from his art since he was a young boy.
“I’ve been good at drawing since I was in elementary school. My friends used to pay me 1,500 riel (around USD0.37) to draw their portrait on A4 or A3 paper. When I was studying in high school, the price went up to 5,000 riel per drawing,” he said.
After struggling for many years, including a miserable spell living homeless when he first moved to Phnom Penh in search of opportunity, it is his artwork that has now saved him from poverty.
The former Royal University of Fine Arts student now lives and works near Siem Reap town’s night market.
“Now I have my own small gallery in Siem Reap, near the night market. All my paintings sell out quickly – I almost cannot keep up with orders from my clients,” he said. At his humble stall-cum-gallery, he explained that many of his oil paintings depict ancient Khmer temples, rural Cambodian landscapes and animals.
But the work that truly distinguishes the artist from the rest are his hyper-realistic pencil and oil paintings, many of which are of celebrities.
Among his clients is social media star Chom Chan, who reportedly paid USD1,000 for her portrait. But perhaps his favourite celebrity portrait is one of Dr Beat Richner, the late Swiss paediatrician, cellist and founder of Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, who passed away in September.
“Dr Beat Richner was a man of humanity and virtue. He deeply connected with people regardless of their race and nationality, especially children.
“He sacrificed his own happiness to save many children in Cambodia. This is the reason why he remains in the hearts of many Cambodians,” he said.
For this reason, the artist decided not to sell his painting of Richner, saying it held too much sentimental value for him.
Despite his extreme talent – or perhaps because of it – the artist has been accused on social media of lying about being the creator of much of his work.
He said in response to his doubters, “I’ve painted via live stream on Facebook many times. My portraits of Angelina Jolie and Cambodian singer Touch Sunnich were all done via live video.”
The King of Painting recently announced that he will soon provide free live stream art lessons to the public from his social media account to help young, aspiring artists.
But his major ambition is to display his immaculate portraits in his own gallery within the next five years.
He even already has the gallery’s name selected – the Garden of Heaven.
Standing proudly outside his current Siem Reap home, he said, “I hope to have a big gallery in the next five years. I hope my work is well-known and I earn great fame, not for me but for my country. I want to show the world the great work of Cambodian artists.”