Life and Art of Pann Kyi

A natural forest never shows the same scene every day and night by seasons. Pann Kyi, however, attempts to capture the miracle moment and space of nature permanently in the canvas with themed colors in the artist mind embracing the mysterious depth of the forest and rays of light filtering through canopies and branches. Often the tiny figures of people and cattle in his paintings disproportionally contrast the imaginary tall trees, which subtly arouse awe to nature.

Pann Kyi is one of the representative Myanmar fine-contemporary artists widely known inland and overseas. He presents his artworks in Space Art Gallery, which he is one of the founding members.    

Pann Kyi 001

"Bamboo Forest”
Acrylic, 77cm x 30cm each, 2014
Pann Kyi 001-a/ 001-b/ 001-c

The Signature Motif - Bamboo Forest

It was 2006 when Pann Kyi first encountered the breath-taking beauty of huge bamboo forest, which shortly became his most famous and popular motif. On that day, Pann Kyi accompanied his art teacher and best friend, Zay Yar Aye, to go to Toon Tay, the suburb area of Yangon, for photo shooting. Later he also hunted the several similar locations in his hometown, Mon State and in the rural villages near Inle Lake, Shan State. The basic single theme color, like yellow, green and blue, often represents the seasons of summer, monsoon and winter, respectively. By rich yet pellucid layers of color with a pallet knife, Pann Kyi successfully depicts the serene atmosphere and mysterious depth of the forest space on the canvas.     


The painter has always been attracted by the beauty of nature and especially moved by the figure of trees. When he was the student, the compound of the National University of Art and Culture (a.k.a. the University of Culture)  was tickly covered with variety of trees. He loved one particular tree, named Padauk, which whole yellow flowers bloom at once only once a year, as the Myanmar people say, just before monsoon rain starts. In fact, on the day of all Padauk flowers in Yangon blooming, whole city is enveloped in lovely sweet fragrance. Pann Kyi painted the tree for his graduation work with full of concentration and affection. The artwork won the first prize from the Myanmar Traditional Art and Artisan Association (MTAA). Since then, painting trees becomes his major attempt. 



Early Life and Art Education

Pann Kyi was born in 1983 in Thaton Township, Mon State as the second son of four siblings. The family’s ethnic origin is Pa Oo, one of the ethnic minorities in Myanmar, many of which sub-groups reside in rural Shan State. He was a quiet child who loved to draw cartoon or illustrations. His father, U Tan Win is also a painter and earned income by making commercial posters, signboard and wall paintings in Pagodas and monasteries. Young Pann Kyi also painted with his father on the walls to help his work, which was how he learned basic painting techniques. It was natural for him to enter the University of Culture in Yangon after he passed Grade 11 matriculation exam as his father always encouraged him.    


Pann Kyi studied in the Department of Painting since 2002 for four years. In 2006, he obtained B.A. in Painting Honors’ Qualification. When he was in junior (3rd year), he met Zay Yar Aye who taught the subject of anatomy in the university. Even as a teacher and a student, soon they found congenial artist spirit in each other and started sharing their time with painting and travelling.



Careers before Space Art Gallery

A year after the graduation from the university was the hard period for Pann Kyi to searching his platform to exhibit his artworks. From 2006 to 2007, he worked in the company called Korean Royal Artisan, which produced and exported the copies of famous art to use printing materials to Western countries. Pann Kyi remembers he painted a lot of landscape and building paintings with oil with rather European style. In a way working in the company was not too bad for newly graduated students because they can use free painting materials provided by the company. But still, it was very hard for everyone to carry on with this job because the salary was too low. The basic salary was only 13,000 kyat (equivalent with US$15) per month plus the commission of 6,000 kyat (US$ 6) per painting. After he quit, the company closed the business in Myanmar, he heard.


Shortly later, he joined another Korean company to draw manuscript of comic books. The rough manuscripts were imported from Korea and the Myanmar employees finished background, characters and everything. The work was for whole day from the morning to the mid-night and he had completely no time even to think about his own painting. This experience desperately made him miss painting.


Meanwhile, in 2006, his ex-teacher and mentor, Zay Yar Aye brought Pann Kyi to Golden Valley Art Center (a.k.a. GV) and GV became his first platform to present his paintings. Next year in 2007, Zay Yar Aye, Pann Kyi and other interested artists got together and established Space Art Gallery with advices from GV owner, U Peter Tayzar Linn.  That was the time when Pann Kyi decided to be a fulltime painter and focus on his painting since he has a “home” as an artist and needs not to drift anymore.  He also started teaching art to children as a home instructor.



As a Painter in the International Art Market

After he started regularly showing his artworks, it did not take long time for him to be discovered by an influential art buyer in Yangon. From 2008 Pann Kyi had consignment with River Gallery, which successfully promotes Myanmar art in international standard with international business manner. Through River Gallery, Pann Kyi’s paintings were introduced to Hong Kong (2009), USA (2010) and other countries, where most of his paintings were sold out. He enjoyed being the bestseller in the gallery in 2008 and later was approached by one of the largest contemporary art gallery in Singapore and Malaysia, Ode to Art. They once sold eight of his paintings within one month.


Despite his growing financial success through consignee gallery, Pann Kyi felt dilemma in rather strict conditions required by those galleries. As a common practice, once a gallery and artist exchange a contract, the artists are not allowed presenting their artworks in any other places, strictly saying, including his own gallery. However as a young emerging artist, Pann Kyi desires more freedom to show his art as many people as possible and hopefully to receive their reactions directly. In 2012, he decided to present his paintings in his original places, Space Art Gallery and GV.


Another issue Pann Kyi faces as gaining popularity is the emerging fake pieces of his works. In Myanmar there is practically no legal framework to protect copyrights for artists. He said there is nothing he can do about other people copy his work, but there must be distinct difference between real and fake. “What I can do is to paint my own best paintings all the time.”  



Fruits to be Harvested

Pann Kyi’s artwork became so popular that it was used in the art textbook of Singapore. Instead of receiving royalty, he requested the publishing company to add “Myanmar” after his name so that children can learn where the painter comes from.  Recently he had a chance to visit one of the international schools in Yangon, Pride International Education Centre (PIEC), which found his name in the art textbook imported from Singapore. The children were so excited and proud to meet the actual Myanmar painter whose artworks were recognized internationally.


He traveled abroad first time in 2011 to follow his artist friend, Khin Zaw Latt having the solo show in Bangkok, Thailand. It was eye-opening experience for the young painters that they found the way of organizing the show was highly professional, efficient and grant comparing to their inland shows.   


In 2012 Pann Kyi called his family from Mon State to stay with him in his new house in the suburb area of Yangon. His painter father, U Tan Win, closed his commercial painting shop and joined his son to be a fulltime artist since then.



(Interviewed by Pirica Art Centre on 24th September 2013)

  ©  since 2014