Artist Hun Sosheak derives pleasure from seeing his work on living human canvasses.
PERMANENCE has no place in Hun Sopheak’s work. At most, his paintings will only last for two days, after which a good scrub with soap and water washes everything down the drain. But the body artist who uses an airbrush in his work doesn’t mind. Beauty, says this 27-year-old Cambodian native, is better appreciated when it’s fleeting.
Anything that’s labelled everlasting tends to bore after a while. Hun’s viewpoint is a reflection of his own life, which he compares to the changing panorama of his human canvasses.
Hun, who was then living with his father, a propaganda cartoonist with the Cambodian police force, was spared the turmoil but this was a time when the childhood game of “police and thieves” were played with real AK47s.“I still have vivid memories of gun and bomb explosions at the police station compound where we used to live. When I was four years old, shrapnel from ricocheting bullets got embedded in my mother’s leg. At that time, she was part of the Unicef team and had been posted to a ‘hard spot’,” says Hun, describing his early childhood in Battambang.
“There was a pile of damaged guns lying on the scrap heap in the compound and the children promptly found a way to put them to creative use,” says Hun.
His move to Malaysia came about at age eight after his mother met a Malaysian soldier while working as a clerk at the United Nations office in Battambang.
“There were no child custody tussles between my parents when my mother made her decision to take me and my sister to Malaysia. My father told us that Malaysia would be a better place for us, and we would have better opportunities and he let us go,” says Hun who got his first view of Malaysia at Kem Penrissen in Kuching, following his stepfather’s posting to Sarawak. As for his relationship with his stepfather, Hun would describe it as: “We don’t talk except when it’s really necessary.”
Instead, he is insists that he is closer to his biological father, where a young Hun would spend hours watching the elder bring his cartoons to life before his parents split. Still, there are inklings that some form of endearment does exist between son and stepfather because on Hun’s 13th birthday, the sergeant personally handed him a ream of A4 paper in recognition of the young boy’s burgeoning artistic talent.
At this time, Hun’s artistic leaning would show itself in his school textbooks where his doodling of Bruce Lee and Ultraman caught the attention of fellow doodlers at Sek Ren Major General Dato Ibrahim, Kuching.
“I always got good marks in art and I remember by age 12, I was selling my art work for RM5 a piece to friends. Business was brisk during the exam season. Once we had to draw underwater scenes. I drew about six pieces for my friends, changing the position of the fishes and seaweed, and they passed it up as their own. I think my art teacher, a fierce Iban lady, knew what was going on but she kept quiet,” he explains.
The school years saw Hun at his most prolific. At age 13, he found himself giving art classes to a fourth former, teaching the older boy how to draw flowers and comic characters with crayons and water colours, earning RM100 for two weeks’ work. He made hundreds of sketches and among his “bestsellers” were those of female nudes which found ready buyers among his teenage friends, much to the chagrin of his art teachers.
“There were two art teachers in my school who often found themselves at loggerheads over my work. Once when we were given free rein to choose a subject for our sketching exercise, I chose to do a pencil rendition of the middle finger. One complained that I was just being rude. The other came to my defence, saying that it was art,” he recalls.
When Hun turned 17, the family moved to Kelantan where he spent the first few months trying to adjust to a new lifestyle.
“Where we were in Sarawak, people were very open-minded and there was a very good sense of camaraderie. In Kelantan, it was very different, not because it was a new place, but my sister Sophea had a bad experience when bad words were uttered to her because she didn’t want to cover her hair. That was something that affected me very deeply but we had to adjust for my stepfather’s sake.”
The only positive thing that came out of his time in Kelantan was a stint at a batik factory during Form 5 at Sek Men Pengkalan Chepa in Kota Baru. This would have been a fantastic springboard for Hun but he found the tedious process involved in batik printing not suited to his character at all.
“You know what they say about the younger generation thriving on instant gratification? Well, I belong to that generation,” says Hun unabashedly. But working with the canting, the wax pen used in batik drawing, formed the basis for his migration from pencil to airbrush. “I learned about control,” he says.
After secondary school, Hun came to Kuala Lumpur to seek out the bright lights and found employment in a car spray workshop in Gombak in 2001.
“I was in the right place at the right time because this was when airbrush work was becoming popular and I was in luck because I was the only worker there who could draw well. That was how I ended up handling the artwork for customers who wanted to personalise their cars, motorbikes and helmets,” says Hun.
After four months, Hun decided that it was time to strike out on his own. Using MySpace and Facebook as his main mode of advertising, he soon made a name for himself among the scooter clubs and kit car fraternity.
The canvas transition from metal to human came about in 2009 when a photographer friend urged Hun to give one of his models a “paint job”, to liven up a drab portfolio.
“My first model was a girl named Farha and I came up with the concept of an organic robot arm for her. When I posted these images on Facebook it got a lot of attention.
This snowballed into something else when one of my friends, a tattoo artist, referred me to a production house who then called me up to enquire if I could give one of their actors an impermanent tattoo. Of course, I said yes,” he says.
To date, Hun has put his mark on models, actors and actresses including famous personalities like Ramli Ibrahim, the Malaysian Indian classical dancer, and Nicholas Tse, the Hong Kong actor. And yes, they have to take off their clothes for him. As far as nudity is concerned, Hun says that it’s the work at hand which gets to him more than the nakedness.
Describing his relationship with his models as “very close”, Hun admits that body art does have its challenges. Unlike a helmet, a human canvas comes with a mind, so the ability to make small talk is an advantage. “The first thing that I am confronted with is the challenge of image placement.
Unlike a flat canvas, the human body has its own curves and planes. You can have the best drawing but if the main subject is placed wrongly, you’ve lost out on impact. That leaves you with a mess instead of a work of art,” he explains.
He also adds that one has to be clever about working around cellulite and scars because they interfere with aesthetics. A human canvas will also stretch and bend. A drawing may look fine when the model is sitting down but the picture can become distorted when she is standing. So there must be an understanding of how the model is going to carry the artwork.
“The one thing that excites me about body art is the 3D effect. Unlike a stationary canvas, the human body is a living and breathing object. When your model moves, your work comes to life.
“I derive the most satisfaction when I see my art work living and breathing with the subject,” he concludes.
Hun gives lessons on basic airbrushing at the National Art Gallery on the last weekend of every month. Check it out on Facebook under Paul Airbrushing.