Vernissage Wednesday 2 April, 7pm
ION Art Gallery
Level 4, ION Orchard, Singapore
The artist will be present
Exhibition 2 – 8 April, 10am – 10pm daily
Conversation with Artist Saturday 5 April 11am – 12pm
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The Artist Min Wae Aung has used the classic motif of the traveller as a starting point got this new series of work. Placing ad hoc persons together, he makes a discourse on the power of people groups. The powerful energy of people grouping together for a common cause, farming and land issues, family concerns, the issues of survival, are packed into the narrative of each painting. As Min Wae Aung has watched crowds of people move all over Myanmar, the function of the artist is to be able to reflect their resilient energy, and the power to keep moving.
We are sitting in Min Wae Aung’s studio again. The year is almost done, and we are talking about 2014, what he is painting, and how. I have sat here with Min Wae Aung many times, over several cycles of paintings, and each time I have been in here, the studio has changed somewhat, as well as his paintings that have always transitioned with a new level of human insight by the artist.
In the post-modern syndrome where in other parts of the world artists hardly paint with such rigour, the visit to Min Wae Aung is always an education for me. Here is a man who paints with such detail and methodology, yet when he leaves his canvas it seems as if it was the simplest feat. A bold expanse of colour, a minimum of fuss with his brushes, focus only on what is necessary.
In the new body of works he has turned out this year, his focus has necessarily been on people. The peoples of Myanmar are depicted in scorching reds and golden eggy yellows, drawn with an uncompromising attention to the details of their individual movements. The colours are intense, black and white being used as shadow and highlight. He has managed an uncompromising, monochromatic palette of either red or yellow, such that each figure seems etched out of the ground of the painting. You peer into each painting, as one standing in the shade and looking out at the heat of the day.
As always, Min Wae Aung has travelled the country as research for the new series, watching, talking, photographing and drawing as people along the roads move through their own separate lives. The places he has travelled this time are far — both Upper and Lower Burma, the delta areas of Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), the Shan states, and up north to Bagan. The paintings he has created from these varied places are each a composite, the artist selecting each character thematically and according to his composition. Each individual in his canvas then becomes a representation of the personal and individual, a crisis of the multitudes of people where the artist must make a crucial choice of whom to include according to his purpose.
Min Wae Aung has used the classic motif of the traveller as a starting point for this new series of work. Going by the common mode of transport in Myanmar for most of the population in rural areas, every one depicted in these paintings traverses through life on his feet. Thinking of “People on the Road” (a preceding series), Min has refined his subject to focus only on those that use their feet to travel – people with not many resources, who depend on themselves to live and suffice on what they have. As an artist and an individual, this is part of his personal quest — to be non-materialistic, to be content as taught by his religious belief; to have a close family life with sustained lifelong relationships, not to be alienated or live as a satellite as life in cities has become.
Earlier “traveller” paintings by Min Wae Aung are often sun-drenched, moving figures across parched earthen roads, their postures revealing inner burdens and weariness. There are flower sellers, and market folk, and random people groups traversing through their daily rituals. With these 1990s paintings as a starting point, he has tightened his approach through the process of selecting each individual subject for its purpose to be included in each composite group.
The paintings he has produced are themed composites of people as they travel daily – families, people with market produce, farmers with hats, women with various objects on their heads, as well as women with elderly people and children. There is a painting composed because each person has a little load, it is a random mix, artistically selected with an eye to the qualities and personality of the one person. There is another where everyone is a kind of farmer, another where each is carrying a kind of produce for the market. Each is a real person that Min Wae Aung has photographed un-posed, and some he has spoken with. I question the intention, the graphic compositions remind me of fashion magazine spreads, where models are selected for both formal physical attributes and intrinsic characters and styles.
The artist assents, it is his purpose to employ such a current vernacular to create a stunning, graphically composed painting. More than this, Min Wae Aung’s intention is to select each person according to how they fit the composition as he pieces it together. Despite the different regions they come from, each person’s shape, movement, actions, dress and baggage resonates with the next. “I picked people that go together. They must have symmetry in their purpose”, he says. Despite the subtle diversities of ethnicity and personality, the principle of symmetry in purpose has governed every artwork in this series.
The structure of symmetry allows Min Wae Aung a new narrative voice – by placing ad hoc persons together he makes a discourse on the power of people groups. In fact the two paintings with gathering farmers (men with hats), seen from the back, are bristling with power and dynamism. The powerful energy of people grouping together for a common cause, farming and land issues, family concerns, the issues of survival, are packed into the narrative of each painting. Through this it seems that a deeper empathy has developed for the artist. He points out the child in an odd-sized western dress: “That’s not Kachin, it is bought from clothing donations.”
Listening to news reports of change in his country, and watching how its people, for the most part, still live simple, humble lives with long-lasting relationships in family and villages has instigated the need to paint differently. Women are often painted as they are often the ones seen on the roads, and working for their families. The paintings are sociological and speak of humanity. As Min Wae Aung has watched crowds of people move all over Myanmar, the function of the artist is to be able to reflect their resilient energy, and the power to keep moving.
Seah Tzi Yan