It was not until 2011 that Hour Seyha painted his first work that, he says, was truly from the heart.
“I got a call from my father at around 3 p.m. while I was in class in Battambang City,” the 25-year-old artist said. “He told me that my mother was seriously ill.”
As it was late in the day, he was unable to find a taxi to take him to his parents’ home in Oddar Meanchey province. So instead, he painted.
“That night, I was so worried, I couldn’t sleep…. So at midnight, I sat on my bed and started drawing her,” he said.
“I recalled every line of her face as I painted. It took me just 20 minutes to finish. And here was her face, sad and concerned…I missed her so much that I started to cry while I was finishing her portrait.”
This incredibly personal work is part of a series currently being exhibited at Romcheik 5 New Art Space in Battambang City. Entitled “The Beginning of the Journey,” the exhibition is a retrospective of Mr. Seyha’s work since he painted that first deeply thoughtful portrait four years ago.
His works often feature people sketched on stark backgrounds —abstract representations of a harsh universe.
In one painting entitled “Welcome to the Sewer,” dark faces with wide eyes outlined in brighter tones—reds, yellows, and greens—seem to be poured from a almost black sea onto blue and grey concrete.
Another, “Weight of Life since Childhood,” shows a lean man wearing only underwear standing with his head entirely bent backward as if straining under the burden of life, which is shown as multicolored weights on dark pink ropes pulling his head down. The background, done in acrylic and enamel, suggests fabric of light blue and cherry-red weave.
In the painting entitled “Supplication,” two people are pleading with a uniformed man shown as a black silhouette, the figure of authority at whose mercy impoverished Cambodians often are.
“I was born in a poor, rural family, and I have known starvation and child labor,” Mr. Seyha said.
“I always try to express the life of poor kids who have to go to other countries to find jobs as migrant workers,” he said. “They don’t get the chance of an education and good careers. I don’t know about the life of children in big cities…but those in remote areas or the countryside have no time to play, go to school or enjoy the affection of parents too busy at work.”
Like many other poor children in Battambang province, Mr. Seyha went to work in Thailand as an illegal laborer. Arrested by the Thai police and sent back to Cambodia in the mid-2000s, he eventually went to study at Phare Ponleu Selpak’s art school in Battambang City.
“I have not changed much in terms of my themes over the years, but I do change techniques,” Mr. Seyha said. “The first year I focused on drawing. Now I often combine techniques such as using earth, acrylic and oil in one painting.”
Mr. Seyha’s exhibition in Battambang City runs through September.