Cambodian artist Daro Nout seeks inspiration for his paintings from Cambodia’s nature during motorbike trips across the country.

When did you start painting?

I started learning painting at the age of 13. I had support from my uncle but not my family. My family didn’t like me painting. They believed that being an artist isn’t good to earn money and you won’t have a good job in Cambodia. They said if you want to be a rich man, you cannot do art. Instead, they wanted me to be a businessman. 

Why was your uncle so supportive when your family wasn’t?

My uncle loves art and wanted to be an artist but wasn’t able to study because his family forced him to do something else. When he saw I had talent, he supported me. I wanted to continue against my family. It was very hard, and they were very angry when I did this. But I was determined and went on to study painting in high school and then studied for a degree in sculpture at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).

Cambodian artist Daro Nout's paintings

Does your family support you now?

They started to support me after I sold my first artwork to a customer. I used that money to make a big sculpture of an elephant’s head as part of my final-year assignment so I could complete my degree. It’s still at RUFA now. Normally students take money from their families to fund this assignment, but I didn’t. From that day, my family saw that I can earn money and they were happy. When they saw me have success and that people like my art and buy it, they became happy.

How would you describe your style?

My original style when I first started painting was very different. I painted scenery and more realistic pieces with moving colour. I love taking motorbike trips into the countryside and going camping in the forests and mountains. When I’m camping I see all of the leaves falling from the trees into piles. When I look at them, I see them moving and forming shapes of animals and people. It’s like they have a spirit inside them. I combined this with my imagination to come up with my work.

The theme of nature features heavily in your work. Why?

The relationship between nature and animals with humans is changing. If humans continue to destroy nature, it will be gone. This is something I see a lot when I go camping. All the trash humans leave destroys the environment and it’s sad. In my painting, ‘Seeker’, you can see the lake in the elephant’s eye. The elephant has run out of water so has had to go and find more. Even when I go on a motorbike trip, I will camp next to where I’ve found a water source. If we have water, we have life. 

Cambodian artist Daro Nout
Daro Nout draws on nature in his art

What changes have you witnessed in Cambodia’s contemporary art scene?

I’ve seen a few changes in the last few years but not too many. The Cambodian audience so far doesn’t really understand my work. I’ve sold a few pieces to Cambodian customers, but mostly paintings in my old style, the more realistic ones like of lotus flowers. For my nature and animal artwork, which is more abstract, I’ve not yet sold any to a Cambodian audience. 

What changes would you like to see in the Cambodian art scene? 

Maybe in the future, younger Cambodians will appreciate and come to love abstract art. We can see today that young Cambodian people are starting to care more about culture, and creating their own culture. There is also a lot of foreign influence that is steering mindsets, which is positive. When I exhibit at galleries now, I do see more Cambodian customers interested. In the future, I hope to see Cambodian artists have more support from Khmer customers and they support galleries more.

To see more of his work, follow Daro Nout on Facebook.