RANGOON — Myat Kyawt has been making art for decades, but he never seems to run out of new ideas and ways to approach his craft.
When he began his career, he tried to emulate other artists—the traditional, the figurative, the highly skilled strokes of experienced painters—until he finally arrived at his own very distinct style.
“In my early days as an artist, I used to imitate the styles of the artists I admired, such as Paw Oo Thet,” Myat Kyawt told The Irrawaddy. “But when I moved to Rangoon and began curating exhibitions, I realized how important it was to have my own style.”
“It’s not as though you can invent your own style immediately, just because you want to; it’s about how satisfied you are with the way you present your feeling in drawings,” he explained.
Myat Kyawt made a name for himself through a solo exhibition called “Trees,” which was on view at Rangoon’s Sule Shangri-La Hotel, then called Traders, in December 2004. The works looked like abstract expressionism at first glance, but upon further inspection were representational.
Many artists stick to the approach that made them successful, but Myat Kyawt wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to keep trying new things, regardless of how well-received his “Trees” were.
“Yes,” he recalled, “those pictures were well-liked at home and abroad, but I have a habit of needing to transform immediately, as soon as I have a new idea. I’m not crazy about money or success. I’m not trying to keep a hold on anything, that’s why I have to keep creating.”
By the time he had his eighth exhibition, in Rangoon’s Thamada Hotel in October 2007, his artistic approach had already undergone a number of transformations. This time his works were more representative, impressionistic portraits. Titled “People of Grace,” the show featured a variety of subjects with halos around their heads, drawing on European religious imagery.
“Anyone who has a heart of gold—rich or poor, educated or uneducated—has influence,” he said of the works, which seemed to elevate everyday people to a saintly status. “This is the message I want to give through my paintings.”
If that was a departure from his earlier works, the years since have brought even more experimentation. Myat Kyawt has even organized a number of performance art events. He said he is interested in forms beyond drawing and painting, to see if they can offer a way to express concepts in a different way.
“Art is a single thing; all forms are connected with each other. Stationary and mobile, rich and poor, hot and cold are not separate things,” he said, explaining that dichotomies create meaning as opposites inform each other. “You can really see this when you create art. I can’t help liking performance art because I am keen on discovering new things, but I’m not a brilliant performance artist.”
Myat Kyawt had his 15th solo exhibition in Rangoon late last year. The featured series of paintings, titled “Love in Adversity,” reflect how Burmese people responded to severe flooding that struck the country in late July and early August. He wanted to show how communities came together to overcome a devastating natural disaster, fighting bad luck with love and sympathy.