A Journey with Tun Myaing
Tun Myaing | Hallway Study VII | acrylic and oil on paper | 8 x 11"
Burmese artist Tun Myaing creates the work of the introvert. Seemingly extroverted himself, his works seek out those who hide within their thoughts; sad and pensive are his subjects. Yet, his paintings are vibrant with color and contrast, teeming with fights between shadow and light: in one there is hope and in the other there is despair. Such is the confusion he experienced first while growing up and then after arriving in the United States as a teen:
“In my work I try to convey the sense of desperation and claustrophobia that overwhelmed me as I grew up in a country under dictatorial rule, and then feeling the same oppression through the racial and social rejection I experienced when I arrived in America.”
Tun’s moving artist statement inspired me to ask him about his past and how it makes up the basis of his work:
Samantha Levin: Your work is about your experiences growing up exploring your emotional experiences with racism in the US and the dictatorial leadership in Burma. Is your work politically charged at all, or are they more personal and cathartic?
Tun Myaing: I just want to make abundantly clear that my work is not political at all. The problem is that the mention of Burma is directly associated with what people hear on the news and what has been going on there for decades: an Orwellian state of affairs. I can’t help the fact that I grew up there so just because I’m from that country does not mean my work is automatically political.
My work is really about the internal universe of my personal experiences from my entire life thus far, and that includes everything from growing up in Asia to love affairs, and other ordinary things like getting inspired by good literature or movies. I mention Burma and my discovery of racism in the states only because they have a big influence on my life.
So, yes my work is highly personal, but is more of an emotional reflection of a variety of things I’ve experienced. The images are not to be read literally; they are metaphors of emotional essays based on my personal life. They are in that sense very cathartic.
My hope is that the images contain within them their own life, and speak to everyone on a visceral level. I want people to trust their own gut reaction to the paintings rather than try to intellectualize it. If I am successful at my job something will click within the viewer, and through free association their subconscious will bring up a past personal experience they’ve had that translates into the painting in front of them. That is why my work and their titles will remain vague because I want people to connect to the paintings without being told what they are about. They do have loose narratives, but that is only to provide an easily accessible doorway that people can enter from.
You don’t have to know what a song is about to enjoy it, just as long as it moves you. That’s all an artist can ask for.
Tun Myaing | Stairway Study 2 | acrylic and oil on paper | 8.5 x 9.5"
SL: It’s that doorway that pulls your viewers into the works’ deeper meanings. Your works are very voyeuristic to me. How do you feel about that?
TM: I’m a quiet observer and like to look at things objectively from a safe distance without getting involved. It comes from growing up learning to avoid confrontations, and having a mistrustful attitude towards things and people in general. When I come up with compositions for my paintings I’m doing this subconsciously, but the results are always the same: voyeuristic.
It does create a sense of mystery, which I like because most of the time you have no idea what is going on and it is always open for interpretation. I’m also a big fan of David Lynch and the way he handles his shots and angles in his movies. So I’m influenced by a lot of dark noir movies, and gravitate towards anything with a single light source and mass shadow areas.
SL: Tell me about your experience at the New York Academy? Were things too stringent or do you feel like you’ve received the education you needed?
TM: The New York Academy was the best thing that has happened to me but it was also one of the most challenging; artistically. Truthfully, I was not prepared for it, mentally, academically or technically. There were a lot of things I did not know, and I had to catch up a lot with so many things that I felt absolutely lost in it all.
There was so much information that was being crammed in the first year that it was totally frustrating, but good. I wish I could do it again but at an easier pace so I could hone my technical abilities more.
As for the direction the academy was going at the time it was definitely more about traditional values and ascetics so it was a bit too tight about it’s creative output. Things are definitely different now because they are more open to things which I think is great and the talent is getting better and better every year.
The title of Tun’s solo exhibit, Journey to the End of the Night, is derived from the French novelist and nihilist Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s first book Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. I have never read it, but I feel this quote from the book gives interesting insights into Tun’s visual poetry:
“…I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare” ~ Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1932
Please join us for the opening reception – I promise that while the works are indeed somber, we will keep you entertained! DJ Redboy will be returning to spin for us and the White Rabbit will on happy hour duty (tip your bartenders John and David really well because we love them)! Details:
Friday, August 6, from 7-10pm
White Rabbit Lounge
145 East Houston (between Forsyth and Eldridge)
Tun’s work will be on view starting Friday August 6th through to the end of the month.
A gallery of work available for sale at this show can be viewed here.