Québec artist ‘making Cambodians and tourists smile’

Stéphane Delaprée's happy-face paintings have given the country a new way of seeing itself...

ARTIST STÉPHANE DELAPRÉE

PHNOM PENH — It’s no wonder that Québec artist Stéphane Delaprée is making Cambodians — and tourists — smile.

His happy-face paintings have given the country a new way of seeing itself and have even won praise from the country’s former king, Norodom Sihanouk.

Where most contemporary art in this Southeast Asian country once depicted its famous Angkor temples, now a host of Cambodian artists shamelessly copy Delaprée’s hugely popular cartoon style.

The French-born Quebecker was upset when the imitations began appearing 10 years ago.

“But finally this French specialist in image and advertising told me, ‘Stéphane, be proud of it. They copy Louis Vuitton and Chanel, and in Vietnam they copy Picasso and all the masters. There are a lot of other artists in Cambodia now and they don’t copy them.’ “

So Delaprée, who has lived in Phnom Penh since 1994, concluded that his imitators legitimize his simple, colourful style, which he often describes as mignon, or cute, but not quite kitsch.

His large acrylic paintings and smaller silkscreen prints show women carrying fruit on their heads; saffron-robed Buddhist monks walking in single file; whole families on motorcycles, often carrying chickens or pigs; palm trees, water buffalos and elephants.

In Québec, he’d been a cartoonist and edited Bambou, a cartoonists’ magazine.

“In my cartoons I used a realistic style. It’s funny because 20 years afterward I started to be a painter and I used a cartoon style.”

He favours bright colours, including azure, yellow, orange and cotton-candy pink. He starts by drawing on the canvas with a felt pen, and the black outlines remain in the finished work.

Everyone he depicts, even the animals, wears a U-shaped smile. Eyes are smaller semi-circles and no one has a nose. He leaves them out, he said, because many Khmers are sensitive about their noses, feeling they’re too broad and flat.

Delaprée, born in 1956, signs his work Stef and makes enough of it to stock four Happy Painting galleries in Cambodia. His two-metre-high canvases sell for as much as $4,000, but most tourists go for the smaller, matted pieces that they can take home for a few dollars.

He employs 16 people — one of them a chauffeur for his black Lexus — to perform the tasks he doesn’t enjoy.

“Me, I just want to live from what I do,” said Delaprée, who once received a letter from Sihanouk thanking him from his “noble contribution to the social and cultural development” of Cambodia.

A modest man, he used to think he was “not a real artist, but just a guy who had a small talent who was able to live, thanks to tourists.” Recent commissions from corporations and art collectors say otherwise.

He believes people enjoy his work because, “It’s simple to understand and carries good vibrations. For me, the world is completely crazy and very far from what it should be. And this is just simple: beautiful woman, beautiful papa, little boy, little girl, nice vegetation—just cute.”

To view examples of Delaprée’s works, visit www.happypainting.net.

For information on travel in Cambodia, visit the Tourism of Cambodia website at www.tourismcambodia.com.

Just Posted

Four-hour ferry delay on Buckley Bay-Denman Island route

BC Ferries reported the cable ferry is experiencing issues with the head shieve.

Air quality statement in effect for Comox Valley

Smokey skies could mean a high risk on the air quality health index

Additional funds allocated to over-budget Cumberland fire hall design

Council approved the addition of $125,000 for pre-construction work

Local musicians inducted into Comox Valley Walk of Achievement

Seven local musicians have earned their spot among some of the Comox… Continue reading

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

RCMP to search for body after man drowns in B.C.’s Buntzen Lake

Officers and fire crews responded but the man from the Lower Mainland is believed to have drowned.

Police chiefs call for stricter controls on pill presses to fight opioids

Canada’s police chiefs are urging Ottawa to beef up its fight against the opioid scourge by closely vetting people who import pill presses

Victoria police say explicit calls continue to target women

Over 50 reports of unwanted, sexually explicit calls have come in

Comox resident part of famed basketball team

Kay MacRitchie MacBeth played guard for Edmonton Grads

‘It’s like a party in your mouth’

B.C. creator’s Milkshake Burger makes its debut at the PNE

Vehicle catches fire near Vancouver Island provincial park

Fire shut down Highway 4 in both directions

Most Read