Leav Kimchhoth, a 55-year-old artist from Battambang province, is a familiar face to locals and tourists alike on the streets of the riverside in Phnom Penh. The one-armed painter and illustrator often hawks his work near the night market on weekends and public holidays.
He rides his bicycle to the riverside and displays his drawings and sketches on specially constructed racks.
Although he struggles financially, and has not yet had the opportunity to showcase his work in a formal setting, his burning passion means he has always aspired to stage a full-scale gallery exhibition.
“I would definitely love to show my work in a gallery. I am a professional artist, and I have experience in creating large-scale works, having been involved in making posters for Naga’s official opening, ‘Thank You’ paintings, fireworks, and banners for beer in the 1990s,” he told The Post.
Kimchhoth, who holds a degree from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), has faced financial restraints that have kept him from producing the large-scale works he needs to pursue his dream.
Although his small drawings are popular among the tourists who stroll along the river, he explained that he does not make a living from the sale of art, but continues to create pieces to keep the skills he learned in the past sharp.
His main source of income is animal husbandry and the sale of the crops he raises at his home.
“I sell my drawings for just one or two dollars. I do not use expensive paints, and I do not adhere to traditional artistic guidelines,” he explained.
Kimchhoth lost his left arm in a bombing raid in 1979, at the age of just 10 or 11. He discovered his love for painting in 1981, when he began helping to decorate classrooms.
He moved on to sketching everything he saw and making countless drawings of possible subjects for future paintings.
This led to him obtaining his degree at the RUFA in the late 1990s.
According to Kimchhoth, his work attracts the attention of domestic and foreign art enthusiasts, although he admitted that some of his more unconventional pieces tended to polarise people’s opinions.
He said that not everyone share the same tastes, as art should be subjective. He tends to focus on rural landscapes rather than cityscapes in his work, although he does make some exceptions for certain buildings that highlight the greatness of his town.
“I try to capture the essence of each of my subjects, using the minimum amount of strokes and trying to use light and shadow to add depth and feeling,” he explained.
Chhan Dina, the founder of Phnom Pen’s “Community of Artists” collective and one of the few well-known female artists in Cambodia’s contemporary arts scene, said it is important for an artist to put the utmost effort and commitment into their work to ensure that their art is the best it can be. She had not seen examples of Kimchhoth’s work.
“We always support local artists, whether young or experienced, but they must demonstrate that their artwork is of good quality,” Dina told The Post.
Dina, whose own large oil pieces regularly sell for several thousand dollars, emphasised the need for artists to have 100 per cent belief in themselves if they wanted to be elected for an exhibition.
Despite living in poverty, and the amputation of his left arm, Kimchhoth believes his art should be judged on its own merit, rather than any sympathy people may feel for him.
He said he refuses to let his disability or his difficult living conditions affect his passion for creating art.
Despite the challenges he faces, Kimchhoth remains committed to his art. His passion for painting and his desire to showcase his work in a gallery exhibition is a testament to his talent and determination.
He hopes that one day, with the support of sponsors or collaborators, he will be able to exhibit his work in a gallery and share his unique perspective with a wider audience.