As the earth is going round in the solar system, so are the countries on it. There is no country in the world that stands still and remains behind. In a like manner, no matter how far Myanmar is said to be lagging behind, it certainly is not standing still. Myanmar is moving forward along with the rest of the world, so are Myanmar artists who do not remain in solitude but are moving along with other artists around the world.
Art in Myanmar has come into closer contact with the outside world after 1988, moving from modern to post-modern. Between 1988 and 2000 was a period of transition for Myanmar art, which has emerged in a new form after 2000, deviating from the past. Young new artists have appeared and so have a number of art galleries established by them on their own. Studio Square is one such gallery.
The member artists of Studio Square namely Nyein Chan Su, Min Zaw, Ba Khine, Hein Thit and Tar Tie joined the Yangon Art School around 1995. But they had to learn modern art, which was their realm of interest, outside the art school. After 2000, they could somehow manage to get away from modernism and created their own styles.
Nyein Chan Su (b-1973) primarily uses colors and brushworks. AbEx (abstract expressionism) that had strong influence on artists in Yangon in the 1970s also influenced Nyein Chan Su that is revealing itself in his works. However, he stands out from his preceding abstractionists namely Khin Maung Yin, Khin Wan and Maung Di. What can be commonly found in each of his paintings are stretches of colors, lively brushworks, original color combinations and new colors produced by overlay of different brush strokes. Moreover, his paintings are no longer abstract ones that are composed only of brush strokes and without any subject. His brush strokes and colors have come to depict scenery. Thus, sky, land and man have become subjects in all his works. His paintings give the people an impression of open space.
What has become obvious is that after 1988 Myanmar artists have tried one way or another to get away from abstractionism that has had too much influence on them. But one remarkable fact in the history of Myanmar modern art should be noted here. That fact is Bagyi Aung Soe, a pioneer Myanmar modern artist, set a new trend of his own based on the eastern style and concept of art that is different from the West. It is often said that Myanmar new figurative art of the 1980s was originated by Bagyi Aung Soe. Young Myanmar artists who have become interested in new figurative art came into contact with the works of Bagyi Aung Soe earlier than those of Philip Guston or Gustav Klimt.
Min Zaw (b-1972) earned his degree in art with the thesis on the art of Bagyi Aung Soe. His new figurative art that began ever since has now passed 12 years’ time. Red Women series of paintings are his recent works. The women in his paintings are typical Myanmar women in form but he does not seem to be saying anything about the fashion or culture of Myanmar women. His women with their eyes shaped like almonds would gaze back at the spectators.
The looks of these women are somewhat sullen and not friendly. But they are not expressing any specific feelings such as being happy or sad. Min Zaw works primarily with outlines then he fills out colors. In the current series, he uses only the red. But his Red Women are not portraits of red women but are illustrations of women that are then put in red.
In the early days of Myanmar modern art, there were two major trends – that of Bagyi Aung Soe and of Khin Maung (Bank). The latter based his style on Western cubism combined with Myanmar sensations. Famous Myanmar modern artist Paw Oo Thet (1936-1993) was a disciple of Khin Maung (Bank), who built his style on that of his master. There are a number of young Myanmar modern artists who have followed and developed on the styles of Khin Maung (Bank) and Paw Oo Thet. Ba Khine (b- 1959) is one of them. The remarkable thing about Ba Khine’s extension on their style is the addition of Yangon scenes. Thus, pre-war Chevrolet buses, Sule Pagoda built by ancient Myanmar kings, colonial structures and modern apartment buildings have become his subjects.
Hein Thit is the one who combines abstractionism with cartoons that pop artists usually create. Like De Kooning, he paints the subject of women in bold brush strokes. He at first focused on abstract ideas without subject then switched to women figures. In 2009, he has picked up the ideas bordering on pop art and mixed them up with his usual brush strokes. He extracts the dialogues of the subjects from comic books and combines them with women figures painted in bold brushworks. It seems that he wants to give the audience a different meaning produced by combining dialogues and manners in the comics with his subject of women.
The art schools in Yangon have neither included modernism in their curricula nor can introduce until today the post-modernism concepts of contemporary art to the art students. So the young artists who graduated from these schools have to learn them by themselves in the real world.
Tar Tie is one such artist among them. He created his (Kamawa Series) paintings with a combination of ancient Myanmar drawings on murals and Pali scripts on palm-leaves and tablets. His intention is to create a visual impression out of this mixture. He says that he simply puts the events of the olden days into the present environment.
In 2009, the Studio Square has passed a life span of six years. During those years, it has made innovative creations based on the concepts of Myanmar modern art that are already in place. The group has tried, as is the practice of Eastern artists, to add oriental thinking and ideas to the history of the Western art so that it would result in a new form. These new forms look oriental while there remain traces of Western art styles. In the 2000s, Western contemporary art concepts have made their way into the realm of Myanmar art. It needs to be watched in the coming years how Myanmar artists would apply them in creating their own works of art. Artists of the Studio Square are in the forefront of such artists to keep an eye on.
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