Life and Art of Maung Thein Hlaing

Transparent and delicate touches of watercolor depicting Myanmar traditional village life and melancholic landscapes. Mg. Thein Hlaing is a young upcoming painter from Rakhine State in Northwestern Myanmar. Behind a soft-spoken and gentle smile is the man of fortitude and strong will. Despite the struggle in his youth for survival of his family and himself without his missing father, Mg. Thein Hlaing never gave up his dream of being a professional painter.   

Mg Thein Hlaing 002 ps

Mg Thein Hlaing 002
Watercolour, 2014

Hardship in the Young Age

Mg. Thein Hlaing was born in 1976 as the first son of five children of the schoolteacher father and the housewife mother. His hometown, Murak U is the second biggest town in Rakhine State and one of the most important archeological areas in Myanmar having the group of ancient pagodas of Murak U Kingdom (or Rakhine Kingdom) from 1430 to 1785. His maternal grandfather was also a painter, U San Lwin, who first taught his grandson how to do pencil sketching, which the little boy became eagerly gone after shortly. Mg. Thain Hlaing said he wished to be a painter since he was about nine years old ever.


However, the way to be a professional painter was far from straightforward for him. In 1988, the year of huge uprising widely known “8888 Uprising” in Myanmar (at that time, still called Burma), one day his schoolteacher father disappeared and nobody knew what had happened to him. Mg. Thein Hlaing and his younger brothers and sisters were told that his father ran away into the jungle and would come back one day. During the nationwide turbulence since 1988, so many people, especially schoolteachers, disappeared forever and nobody dare to mention what was really happened to them for long time. Mg. Thein Hlaing was only 12 years old when he had to quit the primary school and start working for his family’s survival.


He started working in a silversmith workshop in his hometown. He was skillful boy and quickly learned how to make jewelries with silver. But he was never happy there and getting frustrated because he often saw the silversmith cheated the customers by mixing silver and gold, which was, he mentioned, not acceptable for a good Buddhist. He had to change job sometimes, but what he wished to be in his life was always a professional painter.


 Never Gave up to be a Painter

In fact, Mg. Thein Hlaing never stopped being active and creative in painting. He had no money to buy proper paints, so he created yellow paint by mixing turmeric powder and lime. With that yellow color, he painted the Buddha images and gave those paintings to the elderly people as free gifts. Mg. Thein Hlaing loved to see that people were happy and enjoyed his works.  There was nowhere to show his paintings in the town, so he hanged his works on the tree branches in his house compound and made it his own gallery. People made fun of him but he was very happy.


Slowly but firmly, Mg. Thein Hlaing had decided to be a serious painter who can make living by own art works. In 1995 when he was 19 years old, his grandfather, U San Lwin, who stayed in Yangon at that time, finally invited him to Yangon to get proper training in painting. In fact, he had to ask his grandfather for long time to invite him to join in Yangon before this arrangement, because all of his family members were strongly opposed to his resolution to become a painter. The opposition from his family seems to be quite fierce. Since Mg. Thein Hlaing came to Yangon, they did not see each other until 2001.


Being a Painter and Family Reconcile

At first, his grandfather taught Mg. Thein Hlaing basic and portrait drawing skills. In 1998, U San Lwin introduced him to Myoe Win Aung, one of the representative watercolorist, and arranged the advanced watercolor training with him. Next year in 1999, through Myoe Win Aung’s introduction, Mg. Thein Hlaing joined in the Golden Valley Art Centre (a.k.a. GV) as a member painter.  He also received art training from U Peter Tayzer Lin, the owner of GV and Mg. Da.  


At the GV’s regular group show in 2001, Mg. Tein Hlaing hanged three paintings and sold two of those. He recalled those first sales of his paintings were;  “the camping site of the Ananda Pagoda festival” and “white flower” sold to a Singaporean medical doctor.


Just after his first sales, his family in Murak U contacted him to inform about his grandmother’s critical health condition. He went back to his hometown after six years of silence and managed to meet his grandmother just before she passed away. His mother was finally convinced of him to be a professional painter. Now he is getting along with them and supporting his family.


Life Goes on…

One of his happiest memories with GV was the Night Show in 2003, organized by a Singaporean lady, which many other GV painters also remarked as their special memory. He sold a very big painting at the night. The painting was too huge to hang in the gallery room, so they hang it on the wall besides a building, which attracted the eyes of a French artist. That was the portrait of the monk reading a book. He was very happy and proud that the painting was taken by the professional artist.


Mg. Thein Hlaing has been married since February 2012. His wife is working as a manager of her family’s pharmaceutical shop. He shopped at her pharmacy for over a year to buy medicine for his art teacher and gallery owner, U Peter.   


He cannot help regretting that he lost the chance of schooling due to the hardship in his early age. Probably that makes him even more serious and voracious to gain art training and education. He said he would like to be more educated and established in painting and art. He loves to paint Myanmar landscape. His favorite artists are U Myoe Win Aung, U Hlaing Bwa, U Win Myint Moe and U Lun Gywe.


(Interviewed by Pirica Art Centre on 26th February 2013)

  ©  since 2014