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Mae Sot is a bustling, modest little town, located in North-West Thailand, right on the border near Myanmar. Its richness lies in its diversity, residents consist of mainly Thais, Burmese migrants, Karen and other ethnic groups from across the border. Within this eclectic population, we can find a small community of local artists who, through hard work, dedication, and a passion for their craft, continue to pursue a life of creativity and self expression.
An art teacher, Wunna Zaw was originally from Yangon, and arrived in Mae Sot in 2006. One of his first jobs there, working at the gemstone factory, inadvertently led him to pursue a career as an artist. During his years working at the factory, he was sketching and making designs every day.
‘I didn’t have any formal art education. My grandfather, he used to sketch and paint. And when I was in grade six or seven, I used to help him to make some wooden sculptures, plastering or painting,’ Zaw explained. ‘While living here in Mae Sot, I also met two artists – one of them was Sein Sein Lin. So we worked together in the gemstone factory and I learned a lot about art from them.’
His work is marked by his playful and vibrant use of colour. A recurring theme in his art are scenes of daily life in Myanmar and in Thailand. He especially loves portraying the vivacious energy of the marketplace – preferring to focus on the textures, movements and colours of a scene in order to create a sense of place, thus infusing the painting with life.
‘My sketches are quick, like my paintings,’ he explains. ‘They are very rough, no straight lines… not much detail, I just focus on the shapes and colour and light. When I look at something the first thing I notice is the colour. The subject is not as important.’
For his next exhibition, he hopes to host a show back home in Yangon. You can find artwork from his latest exhibition here.
John Khai’s bold and surrealistic depictions of landscapes around Mae Sot and Myanmar sets his work apart from other artists in the area.
Originally from Chin State in Myanmar, Khai moved to Thailand in 2007 with the help of a cousin who supported and encouraged him to move to Mae Sot, where he could complete his education and find work.
He has been developing and creating works since 2008, but art has been a passionate hobby of his since early childhood. Although he didn’t receive any formal training, he was able to refine his skills by studying with an artist in Mae Sot when he first arrived.
He draws inspiration from natural landscapes, and through his art he strives to express the peace and beauty of nature. ‘When I go in the forest, it makes me happy, and I feel like there is something in nature which makes people content,’ Khai explains. ‘I’ve found happiness in making art…. When I paint, I just focus on one thing, I don’t think about anything else, that’s why I feel peaceful. And when I look at the colours, it makes me happy.’
His preferred medium is acrylic on canvas, but he also uses mixed media and paints on paper. ‘I was just drawing from photographs, realistic paintings with watercolours. Mostly I used to draw like that, but since I changed my style, when I started to use acrylic I really loved it. I get inspiration from famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh and other artists from Myanmar; seeing how they use colour.’
Sensual and dreamy scenes emerge through Sein Sein Lin’s art, which is mostly infused with gentle hues of greens and blues. Originally from Yangon, Lin has been making art for over twenty years. She grew up in a creative household, so art has always been part of her life.
‘Since I was a child, I liked beauty,’ Lin observed. ‘My parents always encouraged me to paint and draw.’
While living in Mae Sot, she worked as a curator for Borderline Gallery for three years, where she developed and emerged as an artist. Although Lin enjoys exploring art through different mediums, some of her most stunning and unique work are her Batik pieces – a complex technique which involves painting on cotton fabric. She first learned the craft in 2010 from a local Thai woman and has been using the technique ever since.
She draws inspiration from everything she comes across – poetry, photographs and nature. A prevailing subject in her art is the female figure and presence. ‘I draw women because it’s a way of expressing my gratitude to the women in my life. Most of my friends who encouraged me to make art are women,’ Lin revealed.
Today, Lin lives in Mawlamyine in Myanmar, where she teaches and makes art. ‘I chose the more peaceful life. Making crafts and making illustrations gives me peace,’ she explains.
She’s currently working to create illustrations for a coloring book, and offers Batik lessons at her home. You can find examples of her artwork on her FB page.
All three artists are members of Borderline Gallery in Mae Sot, where they exhibit their work every year.