With a boyish and playful grin, Sopheap Pich joked, ” I make up for a lack of intelligence with a lot of labor.” The 46-year-old was trained in
the U.S., but born in Cambodia, where he is now based. He was talking about the multi-layered twenty-five-foot rattan-and-bamboo sculpture , “Rang Phnom Flower,” which is installed at the Crow Collection of Asian Art through January 7, 2017.
“Rang Phnom Flower” is inspired by a spiritually rich flower of Cambodia. It’s said to bestow power and it’s usually planted at religious shrines. Its construction , using traditional Cambodian materials, was preceded not by a model, sketches or a maquette- perhaps a doodle, stuffed in the artist’s pocket. It was as most of Sopheap’s work…intuitive. That’s the way the artist says he lives his life. Very little planning.
The oversized flower grew inch by inch, joined in five sections, as hundreds of strands of dried, shaved, split and boiled bamboo were tied together from the heart of the flower towards the ball-shaped fruit. He worked on the sculpture for six months.
“I believe in suffering, not in practicality,” says Sopheap. “My idea of technique is almost no technique. I am anti -technology and do not use a computer.”
The shaving and tying may seem boring to some, but obviously not to his family of helpers, usually construction workers who come to ask for work.
Sopheap’s first oversized bamboo flower, “Morning Glory,” from 2011, was acquired by the Guggenheim in 2013. It was inspired by the small and insignificant Cambodian flower which grows there like a weed and was a source of nourishment during the years of the Khmer Rouge. He enlarged it to 17-and-a-half feet, magnifying its importance and offering the opportunity to examine it and appreciate it more closely. Why use nature to tell a story? “Because common people understand nature and gravitate toward it,” he says. “They can relate to it.”
Following “Morning Glory”, Sopheap explored working even bigger by combining separate pieces. He finally resolved to allow one room-size work to stand on its own merit. The most recent 2016 bamboo work is even larger than the Crow installation. Inspired again by nature, it is a giant seed, the size of a shipping container. Sopheap admits he like a challenge and likes challenging the museums and galleries which show his work as well. How to show it? How to make the space work? How to get it through the door?
“Make it as big as possible”, he says,” and see what happens.”
Driven by memories of a childhood with no freedom under the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Sophia Pich is enjoying the freedom of making. He finds spirituality in working.
“The studio is my Temple,” he says. “It is where I am free.”
Guest Blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning in the Arts.