By JAKE ROBINSON
Behind the faces of the 158 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan is one of an aspired painter who dedicated his time and money to commemorate these troops.
Dave Sopha returned home to Cambridge on Dec. 10, after making 122 stops on his across-Canada tour with his painting, Portraits of Honour.
Sopha’s painting received a tremendous response across the country as he received honours and awards from the military and the cities he visited.
The painting is a mural which features 158 faces of the fallen troops in Afghanistan, as well as one poppy petal for every Canadian soldier who lost his or her life from the First World War until present day. Canada has lost over 116,000 soldiers – Sopha currently has 82,136 poppies on the painting and is working toward his goal.
Sopha’s inspiration came in 2008 while reading a newspaper.
“I looked at the newspaper on Dec. 6, 2008, and it said that we had now lost 100 of our troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “That morning it had all 100 little faces on the front of the paper. The impact that it had on me was so strong I knew I had to do something – it had to be something special.”
He started painting the faces immediately on plywood at his studio on New Dundee Road; however, he decided that he wanted to make a collage of the faces and he wanted it to be big. While acquiring the correct resources to complete the painting, Sopha found a supplier who donated a 10 ft. by 50 ft. canvas and he received word that the Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs of Preston would allow him to open a second studio in their building where he could do the work.
Eugene Ho, president of the Kinsmen Club of Preston, said the painting gives Canadians the opportunity to say thanks in their own way for the sacrifice all soldiers gave for our freedom.
“Sopha is an amazing friend and artist and I am proud of the work he has done on the painting in keeping their memories alive and by giving us a lasting memorial,” he said.
Sopha decided to set aside his usual style as an airbrush artist, instead using an oil-based paint for the first time.
“Airbrushing will last 30-40 years, but oil paintings have been known to last 500-600 years. By doing it the way the masters did it 500 years ago, I kind of feel reassured that this will be a national treasure and that it will be around for many years.”
While painting, Sopha began to find the process overwhelming.
“It became very emotional because I spent about two to three hours studying the face and looking into their eyes,” he said. “When you spend that much time looking into their eyes you get a feeling of how they felt and who they were.”
The tour began on May 28 when Sopha unveiled the painting with the governor general in front of 3,000 people at the Kitchener Auditorium.
The painting travelled across the country often preceded by parades and speeches from mayors, dignitaries and Sopha.
“In my speeches, when I went out there, it was mainly to honour these young men and women that have died and tell people that we’re trying to raise funds to help those that are coming home with physical and emotional injuries,” said Sopha.
Pte. Gordon Franklin was captivated by the painting and was impressed by the hard work and dedication.
“It represents the courage of the troops and their families and will continue to be a symbol we can honour for years to come,” said Franklin.
Although Sopha has had numerous requests for the painting, its future is yet to be determined. He has been asked to bring it to the Canadian Embassy in Washington as well as Juno Beach in France for four to six months where a new war museum will be opened. He was asked to go on another Canada tour to accommodate the cities he didn’t visit on his previous escapade.
Sopha is now working to reimburse himself for the money he spent to tour.
“The painting has cost me a fortune but it’s been worth every penny – I don’t regret a cent.”