As a child starvation, who watched the overwork, torture, disease, and execution during the Khmer Rouge and learned by the age ten how to survive on his own, separated from his family in a labor camp and later in a refugee camp in Thailand. Eventually he came to live in California whilst his family immigrated to Canada.
Which of his art often represents the atrocities of the revolution and war which he witnessed and survived in Cambodia during my childhood and adolescence. His paintings and drawings symbolize the negative aspects starvation, sickness, and death.
Chhea has often utilized artwork as an outlet to be able to deal with the difficult and painful memories of my childhood and adolescence. In one of his early charcoal drawings, completed in 1988, he drew a self portrait with a menacing faceless Khmer Rouge soldier entitled Childhood, where he is sitting in a bleak and cold place, terrified of his fate. The shadow which the body of the soldier casts forms a demon-like image. This self-portrait is very symbolic of the Khmer Rouge's power and control.
In the largest of his oil paintings, Seven Women in the Field, completed in 1990, he painted a group of seven Cambodian women dressed in Khmer Rouge uniforms including black clothes with the red cotton cloth called "Krama" on their heads. They stand with their backs turned away from the viewer, holding hoes in their hands. The number seven represents the seven days of the week they have to work from sunrise to sundown. The large and bright sky looms in the background. The long red shadows behind the women represent their difficult struggle to endure the harsh working conditions which life has dealt them. In the background sit homes once occupied but now deserted and lifeless.
In one of his larger oil paintings titled Boys in the Field, completed in 1991, he depicts young emaciated boys treated like slaves in the labor camp. This painting represents the male children who were part of the group of Cambodian people from the cities who were labelled "New People" and were subjected to very cruel working conditions and starvation. The young boys in the painting carry heavy bags of rice which force their thin bodies to twist in agony. While I the brutality of the times s illustrated in the foreground, in the background there is evidence of hope with the immense blue sky and the large palm trees in the distance.
In 1993 he completed the small oil painting titled Re-Education, created with an image of skulls representing the tortured and murdered Cambodian people. As represent the "Killing Fields" all around Cambodia, using bright colors such as red and orange to surround the skulls intended to be symbolic of the blood which was shed during the massacares of the Khmer Rouge.
However his work occasionally covers happier subject matter. His painting entitled Peasants Gathering Rice, was completed in 1990 and relays his early childhood memories of happier times when he would travel with his father to the Cambodian countryside to visit the farm they once owned with the peasants working in the rice fields. It is an oil painting, using bold colors and brushstrokes of thick paint called impasto, to create a textural rhythm in order to introduce a more intense feeling in the artwork. A common theme running through his work are groups of people working in the fields or individuals expressing a variety of emotions. This reflects the "New People" during the Khmer Rouge regime. He often uses red, yellow and orange colors in his work to remember the hot, dry summers spent in the labor camp.