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Who’s Who: Teang Borin steps out from behind the canvas

Cambodian artist Teang Borin works in his studio in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian artist Teang Borin works in his studio in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Who’s Who: Teang Borin steps out from behind the canvas

Teang Borin’s paintings have filled galleries and exhibits – and have adorned the walls of some of the most expensive properties in the country.

Cambodian artist Teang Borin, or Din as he is commonly known, spends much of his days with a paintbrush in hand, staring at a stark white canvas and envisioning how he will transform it into a masterful expression of colour, energy and ideas. While his paintings, including his signature abstracts of traditional Apsara dancers, sell in galleries, they are just as likely these days to end up on the walls of Phnom Penh’s luxury hotels and fine dining restaurants.

The self-taught 37-year-old artist says he majored in architecture in university but felt his career options – or at least his creativity – would be limited in that field. Instead, inspired by performances of Apsara dancers, he began sketching in his spare time, honing the creativity and artistic talent he had possessed since an early age and which previously he had applied to interior design.

Borin’s unique style – which captures the fluidity and motion of his subjects – has garnered the attention of local and international art lovers. It also caught the eye of IKARE organisation, which is covering his expenses to visit the United States and prepare a series of nearly two dozen paintings to be exhibited during the 2018 Festival of Nations in Saint Paul, Minnesota in May.

Borin says he is honoured to join artists from 200 countries attending the event, and as the only artist selected from Cambodia. Having arrived in the US in March, he is now working to complete the paintings he will present during the event, which he says provides an opportunity for participants “to get to know Khmer culture, and put Khmer art on the international stage”.

The Kampot native says the increased knowledge and appreciation of Khmer art from locals and foreigners is encouraging him to spend more time on his paintings. He says he wants to ensure his art meets their expectations.

Obviously, it has. Borin says his smaller Apsara portraits start at about $600, while larger pieces can fetch several thousand dollars. Many of his works are displayed for sale in local art galleries and online. They can also be seen around Phnom Penh, adorning the walls of private villas and upscale hotels, including Raffles Hotel Le Royal, The Great Duke Hotel (formerly InterContinental Hotel), and the Sun & Moon Urban Hotel.

“The value of Khmer art is rising in the eyes of Cambodians and foreigners alike,” he says. “These days, I can barely keep up with all the orders from my clients.”

Borin’s passion for art started when he was in elementary school. One of his early influences was his father, a high school chemistry teacher who always kept a sketchpad handy.

“My interest in painting was sparked by my father, because when I was young I noticed that he frequently liked to draw pictures to aid in his teachings at school,” he says.

Borin’s early drawings were mostly of the countryside around Kampot. Sketching remained a hobby as he completed his education, and while completing a degree in architecture at Norton University in Phnom Penh. He worked at an architectural firm for six years, but says he was turned off of the profession by the long timelines of projects, often many years, which was less satisfying than the artistic work he does now, where a painting can be completed in a matter of hours or days.

In 2014, Borin quit the firm to work as a freelance architect while pursuing his dream of opening his own art gallery. The launch of his workshop and display space, DinArt Gallery, the following year gave him a chance to devote a full-time effort to developing his artistic talent. Now, with a reputation as one of Cambodia’s most celebrated artists, he is looking to expand his gallery to Siem Reap.

Borin says he hopes to spend more time at Angkor Wat, whose centuries-old temples are covered in sculptures, carvings and paintings that can inspire him.

“Painting traditional arts is a form of culture conservation that I always hold dear to my heart,” he says.​

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