On first glance at the work of Aung Naing Tun, you may think it is a black and white photograph straight from the printer. But no, the art produced by this young creative is formed stroke by stroke over hours and days, every centimeter of the image painstakingly planned and drawn freely by hand.
This 20-year-old artist hailing from Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, finished his philosophy degree last year and has since been making a living as an artist and photographer and earning a name for himself among artists in Taunggyi and indeed across Myanmar.
From the simplest of materials – a pencil and paper – Aung Naing Tun can make an image come to life.
The textures, lines, shading and intricate detail of a portrait of an elderly lady is so realistic it feels like she might turn and wink at you at any moment. His drawings can take anything from six hours to five days to complete.
“Drawing was my passion since I was young. I used to attend summer drawing courses and so I have been studying about it continuously.”
Unlike many self-made artists in Myanmar, Aung Naing Tun has the support of his family. In fact, it was the cartoon books that his mother bought him as a child that first inspired him to draw.
Realism is the genre of art that spoke to him the most. However, the subjects he chooses to draw are varied – the details of any particular object or person might provoke him to challenge himself to sketch it down, capturing every tiny detail with his pencil.
“When it comes to choosing the subject, I don’t have any specific limited ideas or rules. I just create something when it comes to my mind.”
Aung Naing Tun wouldn’t be where he is today without the inspiration and guidance of other art-lovers in his life. It is the teachers who have been teaching him the art since he was ten years old who shaped him to become the talented artist he is today:
“Until now, they continue to play in the role of mentoring me in my artwork. Additionally, they always share not only their art knowledge with me but also their knowledge on other subjects.”
But being an independent artist in Myanmar is not always easy. Irregular workflow and a lack of appreciation for the arts are common complaints among those trying to make a living. Parents usually encourage their sons and daughters to get ‘normal’ jobs that would provide a stable income and earn them more respect in the community.
“In Myanmar, although there are many talented artists around the country, it is difficult to find someone who has a deep understanding of the arts. This causes a particular attitude towards the art from the audience and the public. That is the point for which many of Myanmar’s artists have no chance to achieve success.”
Being based in a smaller city like Taunggyi, fewer opportunities are presented to him than artists who are following their passion with the support of a strong network of fellow artists in Yangon. There are fewer art venues, a lack of events and resources as well as a general lack of appreciation for the arts for anyone who lives outside of Myanmar’s major urban centres.
“In Taunggyi there are many talented artists but art is not widely known due to the lack of interest. As a result, it is difficult to make it a professional field. In Yangon, artists may have more opportunities in every way. Those artists have opportunities to bring them fame and fortune.”
Regardless of where young artists might be from or how society perceives them, Aung Naing Tun encourages young artists to follow their passions but also to have dedication:
“Invest time in your passion. Never forget to continue learning to improve yourself. I am sure that one day you will be successful.”
As a young man with his whole life ahead of him and talent that makes him stand out, what are his dreams and goals? And is it realistic to pursue the life of an artist?
“If I had a chance, I would like to have my own art galleries around the country and to open an art school. Although I am not proficient enough in this field, I would like to help people who have the same passion as me to create artwork and prove their artistic talent. I am certain that I will live with art, which I love the most, throughout my life.”