Always Alone

As far back as he can remember, artist Nget Chan­penh has been aware that everyone is profoundly alone in life.

“I’ve always known that being surrounded by people does not mean you’re filled with joy and happiness,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “No one accompanies a human being when he dies or when he arrives into the world. I mean, even twins born together have their own thoughts and ways of life.”

Mr. Chanpenh has expressed this in his series “Solitudes,” which opens at Meta House on Tuesday.

‘O Never Alone,’ by Nget Chanpenh (Alain Troulet)
‘O Never Alone,’ by Nget Chanpenh (Alain Troulet)

In his oil enamel paintings on canvas, this human condition is not rendered as sadness but rather as a matter-of-fact indi­viduality, the people depicted are aware that they are alone whether they are in a group or by themselves. And yet, each person also appears vibrant.

In “Family 1” for instance, three individuals looking in three different directions are painted as tall vertical lines, which ac­centuate their separateness even though they are standing shoulder to shoulder. Their bodies are depicted in three bands of color—muted blue, yellow and green—against a sharp or­ange background.

In the work “Waiting for the Time to Come,” a man in a dark purple shirt and brown pants is sitting on mustard-yellow ground looking at the viewer, his aging face shaded in gray-green and covered with series of pale grey lines. Behind him, a forest painted in deep brown with orange accents stands under a pale blue sky with hints of brown.

However, one painting shows that material links do exist be­tween physical beings. In “O Never Alone,” which is set against a deep blue background, a kitten is sketched within a magenta female cat, its pale face dissolving into that of its mother. This particular painting came about while Mr. Chanpenh’s wife was pregnant with their first child—a boy named Chanpenh Veha, who was born on November 1.

‘The Smoking Woman,’ by Nget Chanpenh (Alain Troulet)
‘The Smoking Woman,’ by Nget Chanpenh (Alain Troulet)

A member of the painters’ group Romcheik 5 in Battambang City, Mr. Chanpenh, 22, has been developing the series of paintings on and off over the past three years.

Originally from Banteay Meanchey province, he grew up in a family of poor farmers and could rarely attend school, he said.

At 12, he ended up working as an illegal farmhand in Thai­land, tending cattle from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. for 1,000 baht (about $33) per month, he recalls. After he was rescued by Thai au­thorities working with an NGO and sent back to Cambodia, he went to study at the art school of NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang City, from which he graduated two years ago.

Speaking about his upcoming exhibition, the artist noted that the Buddha addressed in his teaching the importance of embracing one’s loneliness, which he expressed in sayings such as: “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

His series of artworks explores birth, life and death, a path one must walk alone, Mr. Chanpenh said. “It’s something that I need to express because it’s what real life is about.”

The exhibition “Solitudes” opens at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will run through November.

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