B2B Cambodia spoke with internationally acclaimed Croatian-born artist Charles Billich who emigrated to and now resides in Australia. The famed artist was chosen to present his artwork as an exhibition by the owners of a Phnom Penh-based art gallery called EPIDEMICK.
Billich has had his work hung in the White House in the United States, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, as well as the Vatican to name but a few of his achievements.
Watch B2B Cambodia’s interview with Charles Billich:
Among his long list of accolades, in 2000, he received the Sport Artist of the Year Award from the American Sport Art Museum and Archives, and he has been recognised and contributed significant pieces for the Olympics Summer and Winter Games as well as the Rugby World Cup.
Billich said of some of these milestones, “Yes, I have had an exhibition for the United Nations in New York twice. And it coincided with the day of independence of East Timor, which won independence from Indonesia. That was a great opening moment for the art market in the United States. I ended up receiving an honorary doctorate in Alabama, and has his work at the American Sport Art Museum. You know, it always ends up that way, you lend a painting to a gallery, or to an institution for a minute, and they want to take possession of the painting,” he said jokingly.
He also has had former Presidents of the United States admire his work, and he added, “A couple of presidents have my paintings. I was rubbing shoulders with the President of the United States.”
Charles Billich On Explaining His Art
On his upbringing and entwined views of politics, Billich tried to escape communist Croatia and was caught when he attempted to flee to Australia and was given a ten-year sentence but served two years. “I think the free world and democracies are gaining ground against terrorism, dictatorships and noxious types of government and ideologies,” he said.
When asked if these early experiences impacted his art, he responded, “Possibly. My more heartfelt works have to do with politics, with my disappointments and heartbreaks in my lifetime, because I see so many mistakes being perpetrated by big powers. But as I said, I’m an optimist and we wait for the next page.”
To try and explain the style and to describe his artwork, Billich replied “Surreal”. He referred back to his life under Communism and admitted that he was affected by his time spent under communism “I did come up with a lot of paintings which were bellicose and descriptive of the horrors of communism but there is no market for this type of stuff.”
Currently, he also has images he created based on the Bing Ma Yong Terracotta warriors represented on a collection of 16 postage stamps currently in circulation in China.
“I love the icons from the Chinese and the embracing of Buddhism and the freedom of belief.” On how the project came about he explained, “I came up with an idea – I took possession of The Terracotta Soldiers and I gave them sporting identities for the sports at the Olympics and it worked very well”. He added, “I was ironically made to face the fact that I was in breach of copyright. I didn’t know at that time, the Terracotta Soldiers are copyrighted but they (Chinese authorities) trusted I wouldn’t spoil the image of their past, and we have stayed friends forever.”
The success of his work for the Beijing Olympics resulted in what he described as him becoming an overnight icon. He was also the first to have an exhibition feature on a passenger train from Qingdao!
Billich’s Work In Cambodia
Asked about his interest and passion for Cambodia, Billich has crafted an incredible painting depicting Angkor Wat on display at EPIDEMICK, and that draws him to the Kingdom.
He first visited on a trip from Beijing around 2008 he said and has since returned on visits. “I want to revisit Angkor Wat and I want to complete the cycle that I started at the time of my first visit – in total there are about six paintings. It still fascinates me just as much as it did at the time when I first came to see the temples. It’s a wonder the connection between the botany and the solid temple. The respect for the branches and the roots and the configuration is mind-boggling to me. So it’s a source of divine inspiration and I have come time and again to complete what I feel is my duty.”
When quizzed on how it makes him feel to be launching a new international art gallery in Phnom Penh, and the first artist to display his works at EPIDEMICK, Billich responded, “I keep asking myself, ‘What have I done? But it is marvellous. I’m very, very happy to be in unison with the Cambodian people and share some of their ideals and ambitions.”
In the message he hopes will be communicated to Cambodians who might see his art for the first time, the artist said, “I think there is this tendency towards freedom in my work, around the globe and around space and the cosmos. The concepts like infinity and eternity really disturbed me. I am perpetually looking for solutions, which periodically are communicated to me from God knows where.”
He added” I think artists should keep the flow of information and inspiration free to come from any part of the globe or any part of the universe. So that is behind the idea of realism. I plant my seed somewhere and there are repetitive crops. So I’m very happy and grateful to the Meunier family for this initiative, and I’m glad they are excited by the fact they picked me.
Now in his 90s, he still paints daily and says he “increasingly relies on the quality of material that is in his cerebellum.”
In his final words for Cambodia, he concluded “Cambodia is a springboard for modern art. For emerging, and a mutual merging of all forces and cultural currents. Ultimately, I think only through the arts will we find solace and solid periods of peace. We have a great positivity as far as this part of the world is concerned, and collaborating and exchanging culture is going to be a vital tactic and strategy for peace in the world.”
Watch B2B Cambodia’s interview with Marielle Meunier:
EPIDEMICK – New Exclusive Phnom Penh Art Gallery
Marielle Meunier opened the art gallery as part of her growing range of businesses in the Kingdom and aims to offer small, intimate, and exclusive exhibitions from world-renowned artists which will be on a six-month rotation.
The gallery is only open by appointment but special openings can also be arranged for small events and potential art dealers who are interested in the works on display which are for sale.
The plan for the new gallery is to promote “prominent international artists to Cambodia and also highlight works in France by supporting local artists with an exchange of culture.”
Billich, for example, was selected as he is a famous contemporary artist and Marielle Meunier enjoyed his work on display at his gallery in Australia.
You can contact EPIDEMICK for a private viewing.
EPIDEMICK is located at the intersection of Street 13 and 172 in Phnom Penh.
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