Khmer-art‘Twice Up’ is publishing slang – referring to an image double the size that it will eventually be printed at.   Many illustrators use this ratio as they prepare their work.

I used this term for a weekly column in The Advisor, featuring a new artist each week to depict a colloquial Cambodian topic.*  I decided I’d ask Svay Ken to participate – even though he is regarded more as a painter than a magazine illustrator.

It was appropriate that the senior artist became the subject of the article, in this instance.  I have a deep respect for the honesty of his images, and just a touch of envy for his commitment as a prolific creator.  Many of his paintings, taken in sequence, could be viewed as comic narrative.

Here are some ‘outtakes’ from the interview that informed the ‘Twice Up’ article for June 2008.

How old are you?
I was born in 1933.

What age did you start to paint?

I started to paint at the age of 60.

What led you to become a painter?
The story is that at that time I worked in Le Royal Hotel, and in the age of 60 I was required to retire. Because I needed regular income to support my children’s studies, I asked my supervisor to prolong my job duration in the hotel. Our income just could afford for the daily expenses. At that time, my children were studying. Some graduated high school, and some entered to university, and some were in secondary school. If I had stopped working in the hotel and had received [my] pension fund, I could not have supported my children’s studies and family. That was why I decided not to stop working in the hotel. On the other hand, because of my old age and health concerns, I always thought that I could not work in the hotel for long, so I started to think to find ways that enable me to earn sustainable income. It took me for several months to realize that I had the blood of artist. My grandfather and aunts were the classical artists. Presently, in this generation no one is interested in the occupation of art. I used to spend little time to draw for pleasure. In this regard, I started to get involved with and gave myself a chance for a try for this occupation. The main factor that made me  become the artist is to earn money. Money is the only reason.


How long does it take you do one painting?
At the first stage, it was extremely hard for me to paint pictures since I did not learn from any teacher. It took me around 15 days to get one painting done without any assistance from anyone else. It was really difficult! It took me long to understand the concept of the painting so that I could shorten the time to have a painting done. It was very hard at the first time, but it was later not so difficult. Getting one painting done depends on my feeling. There is no pressure; it is a freedom. Anytime I am healthy, I paint. Sometimes it takes me three or four days to get one painting done.


How many paintings a week are you able to produce?
The number of paintings depends on my health. If I am healthy, I paint, but if not, I leave the painting and relax. It is not sure. It is not always every hour or every day; I cannot do that. I need to have some time to go out for religious ceremonies and public events.

Sorting Rice

Do you have any plan for your art works in the future?
This year, perhaps after an exhibition in Meta House, I am assisted in organizing another exhibition [in December].

I plan to organize my own exhibition early next year, probably in March. The plan for it has already been organized, but I don’t know whether I can make it or not. I have some paintings for this, and I try to find any gallery to place the paintings for a month, but if I place the paintings in hotel, I am allowed a few hours for placing them.

[Update: Svay Ken will have an exhibition in late October at Bophana Center, details to follow!] 

Contact: Khmer Art Gallery, Street 47, Phnom Penh, Cambodia  092 549 089

‘Twice Up’ Article:
‘The Advisor’ issue 4 PDF file:

*Credit due to Paul Stewart for gleaning out the name. And Anthony & Charlie for shepherding the whole shebang.

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2 Responses to “Svay Ken – Artist Interview Outtakes”

  1. [...] Gifted artist Svay Ken passed away today at the age of the age of 76. [Above: self-portrait from The Advisor #4] [...]

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