If you have spent any time in Cambodia, you will probably be familiar with Happy Paintings. Happy Paintings vividly depict scenes of everyday life in Asia. Even the king of Cambodia owns a Happy Painting. The Happy Painting gallery and shop is located on Phnom Penh’s riverside, next to FCC.
Stéph Delaprée is the artists behind Happy Paintings. I caught up with the long-term Phnom Penh resident over a pastis on the riverside, to find out how Happy Paintings came about and what Stéph thinks about life in Phnom Penh.
Stéph tells me he doesn’t like elitism in art, he describes his paintings as being art democratisation, ‘it’s art for everyone, an art which everyone can understand, Happy Painting is the painting of happiness, an art of feelings and pleasure’.
The name Happy Paintings came around at the time of his first exhibition in Cambodia. ‘I tried to find an easy to remember name, I came up with Happy Painting. After so many years I don’t like so much the name, but it’s a good representation of what I do’.
Stéph hails from Paris originally, but he grew up in Quebec and has travelled extensively. He has lived in Phnom Penh since 1993. He originally moved to Cambodia for a two month job with a human rights NGO, drawing illustrations to make people aware of their rights. He is surprised to find himself living in Cambodia almost 20 years on ‘every day I wake up surprised that I’m still here!’
Stéph has created many paintings about the positive side of Cambodian life. His paintings typically show smiling women washing clothes by a river, people working in rice fields and families on bicycles. Stéph says ‘Phnom Penh is a good city, it’s living, it’s like a heart beating, boom boom boom, now it’s more like vroom vroom vroom with all the car engines’.
I asked Stéph about his plans for the future, he said ‘at the beginning I travelled a lot in Cambodia. I’m ready to travel and meet people again, I’m ready to be re-born in work and life’. Stéph has exciting commissions coming up for a Tokyo Gallery and a church in France. It looks like there’s no shortage of demand for Stéph and his Happy Paintings.