Sothea Thang - Artist and Architect
Sothea Thang is a self-taught Cambodian artist and a trained architect. He is also part-owner and designer of TINI Cafe & Bar. We recently spoke with Sothea and his TINI co-owner Daniel Mettes about the concept behind TINI, and learned about Sothea's design process in creating the space for the cafe (see our previous blog post "TINI - A Small Cafe with Great Coffee and Art").
Sothea's paintings and sculptures are on display at TINI, and they captured our attention with their bold shapes and colours. After learning all about how he designed TINI, we wanted to know a little more about Sothea as an artist.
Sothea, you said that you can’t choose whether you identify yourself more as an architect or an artist... Why is that?
I loved art as a high school student, and won art competitions... But I left high school and went on study architecture - I decided architecture would combine being creative with earning a decent living. Once I graduated university, I spent three years in a friend’s office working as an architect - and then, I needed a break. It was 2009 and, at the time, one of the firm’s clients was opening a hotel. They needed some art for the hotel and asked me to do some drawings. They liked them and asked for a bigger canvas to hang in the lobby.
I was used to making drawings as an architect - in other words, fast drawings with a bit of watercolor! Other than that, I was only drawing as a hobby and I had just 10 small pieces… so I chose one and used acrylics to put it onto a bigger canvas. They liked it, and it opened up the possibility of doing art again.
My friends said they liked it too, and pushed me to do more until I finished the first series. When I was young, I liked to make clothes and create things, I liked to do these kinds of things that my family didn’t always understand or appreciate… So, now I do both!
How did you start making sculptures?
I had always wanted to do sculpture but had never learned or tried. After I completed several series of paintings, I looked around for inspiration for a simple thing I could do.
The first one I made is hanging in TINI but, for me, it is too linear. For the second one, I tried copper and worked with a metal worker. The concept of the sculptures and my current work is about the human body - and also fashion…when I was designing [the hemp] for the sculptures I kept thinking, what will this look like if I put it on a real human?
At Sothea’s 2015 exhibition “Manu” at The Plantation, models wore Sothea’s art as clothes and headdresses...
I created the clothes for the exhibition in two days. At first, I was concerned that the clothes would mean people would forget about the sculptures but actually the opposite was true.
Rhiannon, who attended Sothea's exhibition, said she was struck by how tribal and African Sothea’s sculptures and garments looked...
My focus is on the body. I like shapes, form, color, texture and material. I also look at nature. A friend had showed me a picture of a Giacommeti sculpture and asked me if I could make one of my wall hangings stand in this way. I started thinking about how the body should be, the heart, the breast and the butt and then came the hemp, a material I used to use a lot at university.
An exhibition is not just one piece, so I cannot just do the same face again and again. From one slim steel rod I need to make many faces…so I pass “Asian” form, “European” form, “African” form… I develop it and follow the materials. I don’t think I am inspired by Africa, as I have no idea about it… it just came through! But I am happy that people see it - the world is round and I am not the first human being born in this world.
Sometimes something is completely new, and sometimes it is very close [in form] to something that has already been created…in this way, these sculptures are similar to my first big canvases. Every time I design and create something I don’t search too hard for outside ideas. For me, the creativity comes from inside. Daniel (co-owner of TINI) knows that I always say ‘Art is freedom’ and I do art in my own way.
Do you have any favorite pieces?
I like all my art. When I make something, I put a piece of me inside. The last series, I like a lot. I can’t choose one piece that I like the best...it’s not fair on other pieces!
What inspires you?
My friend took me to see a Picasso exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I don’t know how to thank him for that!
Lastly, we’re keen to know, what tools do you use to create your work?
I just use a basic brush and, for detail, I use a Chinese calligraphy brush. I feel uncomfortable when people ask to see my workshop as they expect more! I use things that are different and I don't follow any rules...I just use things around me.
Thank you Sothea, we love seeing your work in TINI and look forward to seeing where your work takes you next.
Tini Cafe & Bar: #57, St.450 Toul Tom Poung
Cover images by Preecha Wattanasirisakul and Rhiannon Johnson