The strong, contrasting color palette in Maung Win Cho’s paintings is reminiscent of beautiful stained-glass art. Evocative of post-modern pointillism, his highly stylized approach coupled with images of an everyday Burmese life creates stark, vibrant imagery. His paintings explore the relationship between people and the environment, reinterpreting the movements of people in the rural landscape. The work functions as an allegory for the impossibility of connection in modern times and it is a quiet yearning for the simplicity of bygone days.
Born in 1963 in Mudon, Mon State, Myanmar.
Education: B.A. (Burmese) at the University of Distance Education
Maung Win Cho studied under the art master and his father, U Lun Gywe. Equally talented but persistent in setting out on his own path, Maung Win Cho, explores contemporary art. After many years of challenge and struggle, his distinct painting style has evolved. His bold lining, vivid colours and sometimes transparent mosaic-like art, has attracted a global audience.
He loves to paint everyday scenes like market places, scenes with bullock carts, flowers, and Myanmar villages featuring water and small streams. Through the eyes of the artist though, these banal scenes take on a powerful transformation. They are cheerful, tranquil and yet thought provoking.
Life and Art of Maung Win Cho
A painter in constant creative flux, Win Cho projects a protean restless spirit in his subtle variations of style on a wide range of subjects. His bold use of lines and vivid colors often with transparent mosaic-like tracings are attracting many foreign and local admirers. His idiosyncratic style and subjects compel the viewer to search for multiple interpretations and meanings as they enjoy the beauty of his colours and compositions. It is fascinating to see his subtle changes of style and the maturity of his narrative and vision over the past decade. His works have exhibited at various overseas shows including Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.
Paintings of Families
In Win Cho’s paintings, the figures of families are often found in subtle and heartwarming settings. The personal yet universal feeling of nostalgia and bitter-sweet memory of family would be revived in the viewers’ mind when they find the figures like a mother holding her baby on her back or a father and s son on the back of a buffalo on their back home.
Family is a subtle recurrent theme in Win Cho’s paintings. The painter once mentioned that his favorite painting of his own depicting lotus pond reminds him the happy moments with his family. In his childhood, Win Cho often took the City Circle Train, which traveled around the suburb area of Yangon, with his parents and brothers. The little Win Cho enjoyed pretty lotus pond from the train windows along the railway track and he wished to get off the train and appreciated the flower closely. Now he owns a small plot in the outskirt of Yangon, where he planted rubber trees and other crops having little streams with lotus flowers. Lotus flowers are always there to be appreciated by him, but the circumstances in his life and family has drastically changed from his early age.
In Early Age with Fellow Artists
Win Cho was born in Mudon, Mon State in 1963 as the fifth child of eight siblings. He started painting very young under his father, the art master U Lun Gywe. Although he was determined to become a painter since he was little, he did not attend art school but graduated with B.A. in Burmese from the University of Distance Education.
Win Cho has known U Peter Tayzar Lin, the owner of Golden Valley Art Centre (a.k.a. GV), since he was 11 years old (1974~). When I asked him U Peter’s first impression, U Peter teased Win Cho saying “it should be good because I always gave him pocket money”. They have been like friends and brothers all the time.
Win Cho was one of the founding members when GV was first established in 1987 as one of the early private gallery in Yangon. The first five years following by GV’s opening were the happiest time of in Cho’s career as a painter. He was single without any worries or stresses. He remembered selling his first painting - of a boat with cover - to a Korean guest in 1987. The painting cost Kyat 47. It was considerable amount because at that time even U Lun Gywe’s painting cost only about Kyat 150.
Stella the Elephant
Win Cho encountered hardship in 1992 due to a change in circumstances at home which forced him to be financially independent. One year later, Win Cho married his seven years long girlfriend, Thu Thu (a Shan Chinese), and the newly married couple moved to Bamo in remote northeastern Kachin State, Thu Thu’s hometown. For about two years, he worked with his father-in-law and brother-in-law at a timber elephant camp in Miko village to earn a living. Despite his financial difficulties, Win Cho recalled that his wife’s family was kind to him. Miko village was also the place where he met an elephant named Stella, who inspired him to return to painting after a hiatus. The painting, which took two years to complete, stretched over a decade. He began it in 1997 and only returned to it in 2006 to refine it in his new style. At first he painted her with deep feelings of attachment and fond memories. He recalled feeding her potatoes when she finished her chores. He deliberately made her carry only light timber. Later as he refined the painting, the feeling of endurance, determination and challenging in his life would be added in it.
When GV faced the serious scale down of painters in 1999, Win Cho was the one of the artists who decided to stay in GV while many of the fellow artists including his father left the gallery. This was the time when he had to be completely independent financially and obliged to take care of his wife, mother and younger sisters. He barely had to manage to make a living by selling paintings or saving gold or jewelry. This was also the time when he changed his initial nickname of “Cho Lun Shein” named after his father and mother to the current name “Maung Win Cho”. The change indicated his determination and resolution of being an independent man and a painter. Win Cho recalled it was highly stressful and painful time for him and his family. But also it was the time he was strongly and desperately willing to improve his painting skills and styles, as reflected in “Stella”.
Being an Artist – and being a Good Buddhist
Once we discussed about any painters who were unfortunately not recognized for years, the gallery owner U Peter mentioned, “Although some artists are already deserved to be well recognized, often they have to wait for their right time to come”. Win Cho’s right time seems to come after all. His paintings have become very popular amongst local and foreign visitors from the regions including Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. His bold and vivid equally cheerful then tranquil arts have attracted many people’s eyes. However, after years of ceaseless struggling and challenging in his life, he said he is just purely happy as far as he can paint. In December 2013, his 84 years old mother peacefully passed away with all her children at her bedside. Despite the hardship and heartbreaks in her life, she was always calm and kind to others as a good Buddhist. Win Cho also wishes to follow his mother, as a serious Buddhist, practicing meditation deeply to bring peace and happiness in his mind.
(Interviewed by Pirica Art Centre in March, December 2013)
1995 - Myanmar Fair, Parco, Bugis Junction, Singapore
1997 - In the footsteps of Siddhartha, Notices the gallery, Singapore
1998 - Bagan: A World Heritage, Notices the gallery, Singapore
1999 - Image of Myanmar, Paragon Hotel, Singapore
2002 - Burmese Days, Bangkok, Thailand
2007 - Indochine Beauty, Gallery in Kemang, Jakarta, Indonesia
2007 - Christies Auction: “Indochine Beauty” Jakarta, Indonesia
Since 1987- GV Group Show
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