A recent portrait of Beyonce from a promotional poster for Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King by Cambodian artist Bennie has received high praise – no less than from the global superstar’s own mother.
“Your work is beautiful, Bennie,” wrote Tina Knowles-Lawson, the 65-year-old American businesswoman and fashion designer, on her official Instagram account, @mstinalawson.
Her comment after the portrait and a video of him working on it was posted on Instagram earlier this month made the humble 25-year-old scream with joy as he never expected to receive praise from the family of pop royalty.
Three of Beyonce’s personal makeup artists also got in touch with Bennie after seeing his remarkable talent. One of them, Rokael Lizama, promised to repost the video of him creating the portrait of Beyonce from the poster for The Lion King, which is set for release on Friday.
“I am honoured that three of Beyonce’s personal makeup artists, a fashion stylist and even her own mother noticed my work. Having them say they love it is incredible. I can’t believe this is real. It absolutely means the world to me,” says the self-taught artist, whose real name is Thai Norak Bandidh.
“One of Beyonce’s makeup artists reached out to me saying he would love to share the video of me creating the portrait with his large group of followers, and would even like to work with me on a future project. Even Beyonce’s mum has complimented me. I’m so happy this has happened."
“I am very lucky to have been acknowledged by these people in the international music industry. It’s been amazing.”
On his Instagram account, @bennie_bd, which has almost 12,000 followers, Bennie (pictured, Supplied) showcases several of his realistic celebrity portraits, which are created digitally or on paper and canvas.
Some of his recent work includes digital portraits of pop stars such as Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Ariana Grande. There is also one of Hollywood A-lister Angelina Jolie in her role in the 2014 movie Maleficent.
However, it is the portrait of Beyonce that has drawn the most local and international admiration.
“There’s no real reason behind why I like to draw Beyonce. I just do it out of love and admiration for her as she’s one of my biggest idols. I never expected so many people around the world to appreciate my Beyonce art and express their love for it,” said the business graduate who dedicated his spare time to learning traditional and digital art.
Bennie was born into a creative family. His mother, Ngin Maniya, is a well-known novelist and songwriter, while his sister is a model and his brother an actor.
He graduated from Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) in business, but having had a love of art since childhood, he continued to pursue his passion.
“I’ve been drawing since I was a small boy, and I have learned everything myself by practising every day and watching tutorials online. I never went to art school,” Bennie says.
He locks himself away listening to music when working on a project.
“For me, it is the best way to get in the mood and stay focused on producing a great portrait. I think creating art is a great moment of escape,” he says.
He first got serious about art around five years ago, starting off with pencil and paint on paper and canvas.
Bennie began drawing and painting as a hobby, never thinking of turning his talent into a paying job.
“It turned out that many people appreciate my work. I’ve been asked to draw and paint. I’ve been paid for my work. It’s very encouraging,” he says.
Bennie’s pencil drawings cost between $100 to $500. His oil paintings start with a price tag of $100 and can fetch up to thousands.
“I can spend just a few hours on some drawings on paper. More detailed portraits can take me about three to four days to complete,” Bennie says.
Having worked on paper and canvas for five years, Bennie was inspired to try digital art after watching online tutorials.
“I have been a traditional artist for almost six years now, but I have only been creating digital art for about five months now so I am still learning.”
“Digital art is just like traditional art. Sketching can take a few hours, whereas more detailed pieces can take between seven to 10 hours,” he says.
The muscular artist reveals plans to open his own space to exhibit his work.
“I have not yet exhibited my art in a gallery, but it is something I’m planning to do in the near future.”
“I want my own exhibition. I want to make huge celebrity artworks. I would really love for those celebrities to see my work and have it hanging on their walls! Hopefully it can reach a larger audience around the world. I would love to run art classes too.”
Having created a stir with his portraits of international superstars, Bennie reveals he plans to get busy drawing local celebrities.
“I haven’t done any Cambodian celebrities yet, but I am definitely going to do so soon – stay posted,” he says.