Veteran painter Tin Maung Oo’s work has been exhibited for more than four decades. He talks with Cliff Lonsdale after his latest showcase. Photo by Leo Jackson.

Myanmar artist Tin Maung Oo has been interested in art all of his life. Born in Yangon in 1949 he developed drawing skills at an early age, but he was inspired to take an interest in painting by a neighbour who happened to be a leading artist at the time. As a young man he spent hours standing by the easel of Dr San Myint wanting to replicate his style, but was never quite satisfied with his efforts to produce the traditional style of realistic paintings.

It wasn’t until 1972 when he had the opportunity to attend the Fine Art School of Yangon that he was first exposed to modern art. Only a few artists were using such techniques and not many places were displaying this style at the time. He was excited by the works of leading artists such as U Khin Maung (Bank), U Win Pe, U Paw Oo Thet, and some young modern artists from Mandalay. It was here that Tin Maung Oo realized that in his heart he wanted to follow their example, and to demonstrate ‘freedom’ in his art.

“I didn’t choose to paint in the style of cubism, cubism chose me.”

As with all the other young artists at the time in Myanmar he was starved of access to art from overseas. He remembers they used to scour the stalls along Pansodan road looking for books on international art often left behind by foreigners. At the side of the road he and his peers would pour over images of the works of Picasso and other modern artists.

Inspired by his dream to represent reality in this newly discovered revolutionary modern cubism style he looked to other local artists to learn from and emulate. He became friends and a ‘younger brother’ of artists such as U Myint Hsan and U Bogie. Over time he developed his own unique style and way of expression.

“Find an artist that inspires you and learn from them, emulate them and practice their style. When you are ready, you must then find your own way.”

His first art show was in 1973 although at this time he was still predominantly painting in a realism style, though with very modern brushstrokes. It wasn’t until 1986 that he really established himself as a modern cubism artist.

His favourite place in Myanmar to paint is Shan State, he enjoys the serenity and beauty of the area. Tin Maung Oo explains that he only paints when he is feeling peaceful, and when someone looks at his paintings he wants them to feel and experience that peace and share in it. His use of cool and calm colours in paintings of pagodas not only represents the tranquillity of the scene that he is translating onto canvas but also the weather and the temperature that he experiences at the time.

“Paint with your heart. Whoever looks at my paintings has something they can to take home and look at, at night, not on the wall but in his heart.”

'Cubism chose me': artist Tin Maung Oo
Inlay Village by Tin Maung Oo. (Leo Jackson)


His paintings of Inya Lake have a different feel, his use of bold contrasting colours demonstrate the uniqueness of the stilted houses and the energy of the boats and people working along the edges of the lake.

Tin Maung Oo has displayed his work all over the world, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, China, and Malaysia, even in Italy. His work sells well overseas, in fact people travel to Chiang Mai simply to buy his art. His unique style is famous in Myanmar and his paintings are widely sought after.

“Sometimes I like to visit my paintings, to remember what I was painting when I was younger.”

He has never stopped learning or developing his skills, he has recently introduced texture into his art, carving the paint with smashed plastic, and is moving towards a much more abstract conceptualisation of his message. When you view his paintings side by side from over the years you can really see the journey he has taken with his art, you can see the evolution of his talent.

“When I was young I had more energy, I wanted to focus on the details, and now I see things differently I want to express that energy in broader strokes, in more contrasting colours.”

A selection of Tin Maung Oo’s paintings was recently exhibited at the Ant Art pop up Art installation at Junction City. “A Tale of the Master Artist Tin Maung Oo” was displayed between December 29 and January 7.

His art is also available to view at Trish Gallery 46A, G/F, Flat C, Excellent Condominium, Min Kyaung Street X Pantra Street, Dagon Township, Yangon. Phone: 09-3137-1974, 09-501-0657, 09-254-074-869. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm (closed on Mondays). Regular exhibitions are held on the first Saturday of every month. Contact the gallery for more details.

Patricia Pun the founder and owner of Trish Gallery bought her first painting at 17 and she has been an avid collector of Myanmar art ever since. The Gallery opened in 2010 and is filled with her unique collection of artwork and sculptural pieces from some of the greatest Myanmar artists. Patricia is particularly keen to also provide a space and platform to exhibit the work of young and talented Myanmar artists and she has a long history of supporting them and helping them to achieve their potential.


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