By Mimi Wu
NCS constantly pushes past traditional art with new forms of expression to personally connect with humanity.
It’s 11am when Nyein Chan Su (better known as NCS) and I meet. He has been working at his art studio since 7am, before moving into his managerial role at Studio Square Gallery, which he founded with four other artists in 2003.
NCS is a multidisciplinary artist, who is most creative in the mornings. Though initially trained in impressionist painting at the Yangon State School for Fine Arts in the early 1990s, he wants “to know how to do everything in art and how to present to different audiences. I want to use any medium.”
NCS is famous for his contemporary abstract expressionism and range of mediums. Make no mistake of his rather reserved disposition; NCS is daring. Using painting, video art, sculpture, street performance, installation, and print media, he silently yet powerfully expresses how socially charged events around the world personally shake him.
Many of his works have been questioned and misunderstood by the Myanmar police and government. This includes a performance installation inspired by student demonstrators at the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. NCS’s installation involved coloured eggs surrounded by large coloured tires; for his performance, he laid on on the floor while others turned a wheel over his body.
Another of his earliest exhibits was of nudes. “This show was a little early for this new generation. My wife, sister, and my parents didn’t like the nude paintings; even the art gallery where we displayed them didn’t like it. But nowadays, there has been some change.”
Indeed, the government recently permitted NCS to showcase, in Singapore, twelve sculptures of soldiers protecting government bureaucracy in the forms of paper punches and telephones.
Though societal issues, particularly in Myanmar, inspire NCS, he insists he is “not interested in the political situation or revolution. I have feelings for people around the world. The government thinks I’m a rebel artist; I make art, but they don’t understand the art. Some of the newer generation of artists make art for political reasons. This is not true art. The government focuses on this, but I’m not interested in that.”
Nor are true artists beholden to donors.
“If you want to make it, you make it. If you want to make it, you make it. You’re an artist. If you have a lot of supporters or donors, you are not free.
You make a project for the donor.” For this reason, he has distanced himself from galleries that focus on selling “commercial art”.
NCS is most proud of his paintings of which his Dreamscape series is one of his best-known works. Using a hard palette knife and soft paintbrush, he sweeps broad strokes of vibrant colours across a singularly hued background.
Ever present are two brush strokes that depict two individuals, perhaps in conversation. This painting style is also utilized in his Nat series, which was inspired by his deep fascination with animist worship in Myanmar, and his Deep Dreams 2010 series, which delves into his subconscious.
NCS’s talent and avant-garde art has won his international accolades, including the 2001 Certificate of Recognition from the then ASEAN Art Awards, second prize at the Myanmar Contemporary Art Awards in 2004, and a nomination for the APB Signature Art Prize in 2011. His highly prolific work has appeared in countless solo exhibits and group shows in Myanmar and abroad.
What of his current state of mind? “I have a plan to draw a new series of landscapes, using transparent color to look peaceful. I have a lot of confusion in my mind and a needle in my heart because of student demonstrations. My heart is very sorry about that. Now I want to draw peaceful paintings.”
You can find NCS’s work at his Studio Square Gallery; in permanent collections at the Fukuoka Asia Art Museum in Fukuoka, Japan and the Singapore Art Museum; and in private collections in Asia and Europe.
This article was previously published in MYANMORE’s monthly lifestyle magazine, InDepth #10, August 2015