Life and Art of Win Aung

Win Aung, who origins from an ethnic minority, Kada, in Upper Burma and dedicated his early age as a Buddhist monk, claims “freedom” is the most valuable matter in his life. As in, he lavishly chooses variety of motifs whichever attract his interest; such as the scene of Yangon industrial area, the local workers refining irons, and lovely series of a girl looking at mirror in a warily small hat. The painter also adapts a wide-ranging technique freely in his oil or acrylic paintings from native impressionism style with rather rough strokes to more careful and refined touches creating tranquil atmosphere.


Win Aung 006

“Near the River Bank”
Acrylic, 26cm x 36cm, 2014


In Early Age

Win Aung born in the village of Kada (the sub-ethnic group of Shan) in Upper Burma, Sagain Devision in 1955. He was the youngest son in the six children of the farmer parents. He was quiet and peaceful boy who always loved to draw on his blackboard. Win Aung became a novice in the small monastery in his hometown, Mon Khooda, when he was 15 years old. He explained why he had turned into novice-hood was that he did not want to kill any animals even for survival. That was good reason enough for a little boy. Yet, it was (or is still in some places) common practice that younger children of poor families are left in a monastery at least to get enough food and basic education, which could ease the financial burden of the families. At the same time, that practice is believed and respected as a good conduct for the families and children’s virtuous deed, or Ku-Do.


Later, the young monk Win Aung moved to the bigger monastery in Indaw town in Sagain Division. Eventually he spent for 14 years in the monasteries. But day to day he realized the life as a monk was not so peaceful as he initially expected. Since many people came to the monastery with their problems and ask for monks’ consultancy, he could not help feeling disturbed and annoyed. Finally in 1984 when he turned to 29 years old, he decided to return to secular life and become a painter.


Career as a Painter

It might look odd and fortunate that Win Aung managed to join the art master U Thein Han’s private tuition for 3 years since 1979 during he still belonged to the monastery. In the tuition, Win Aung met Hlaing Bwa, Maung Aw and another art master, U Lun Gywe. Given his art training, it was natural for him to start working as a commercial artist after secularization. He sold posters, signboards and number-plats at roadside. But soon after, he found it was not easy to survive like this. He had not enough food to eat sometimes.


In 1992 when he was 33 years old, Win Aung found himself facing very severe financial difficulty. He went to his friend Hlaing Bwa and asked him to buy his oil paints. Hlaing Bwa said he had also no money to pay for Win Aung. Instead, he brought Win Aung to Golden Valley Art Centre (a.k.a. GV). “If you sell those paints, how will you paint?” the gallery owner, Peter Tayzar Linn asked him.  “Well, I can buy cheaper paints and still paint, I guess”, “So why don’t you bring back those paints and paint something for this gallery.”  So the deal was done. U Peter gave him 2000 kyat (they say, at that time, 5 people could survive 3 month with that amount). A week later Win Aung brought his several paintings to GV. Those paintings were mostly still life. And surprisingly (by Win Aung) the gallery managed to sell the paintings to an American lady in shortly.  That was one of the happiest moments is his life. He can still remember the American lady’s face and name.



Independent and Free Life

About 1990, the Myanmar government introduced the scheme to subsidies for artists to purchase land in Yangon suburb area with 100,000 kyat. He purchased the land in Dagon Township and started living in his first and present house. Since the house has two stories, his idea was to open the first storey for other painters for free. At beginning his house had no wall, no floor, no ceiling nor fence but just floor and frames. He just lived there as it was. GV also donated lighting and a tube well with a hand pump for his house. After the decades, the place is finally very cozy and comfortable, Win Aung smiled.


Win Aung lives freely as in he paints freely. One of his interesting pieces is the small hut and pond in Inlay Lake at dusk (or dawn) probably after the rain, which miraculously captures the transient moment and scene. However the painter hardly paints similar motifs, again. In the latest exhibitions, he introduced his new theme, a single girl in a hut touching Tanaka grinding stone or watching mirror. He is a carefree bachelor, but hasn’t he have love affair ever? He smiled and talked a bit about the girl whom he used to love, a young tailor girl. Due to some reasons including the political situation at that period, he ended to keep her in his precious memory. She may appear on his paintings sometime when his mind lightly flies there.



(Interviewed by Pirica Art Centre on 8 May 2013)


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