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Artist Spotlight - Phyo Thiri

Phyo Thiri is a Burmese painter and photographer based in Tokyo and an Art major at TUJ.

As usual, first I’m going to ask for a short introduction.

I’m fully Burmese but I was born and grew up in Japan. Even though I’ve lived here my whole life, I often travel to Myanmar to visit family. I’m a painter and a photographer, and sometimes do modeling as well.

How did you pick up painting?

When I was a child I really liked arts and crafts - making toys and small sculptures. I’ve never taken it seriously though, not until high school. There, I started taking art classes and after seeing my work, the teachers encouraged me to pursue it more sincerely. By that time, I dropped crafts and focused on oil painting. Thanks to my art teacher, I got introduced to many artists and she would also make see lots of exhibitions. This is how I became interested not only in being a painter myself, but also in the artistic process of other artists.

When you go to an exhibition, do you treat is as a way to study your craft?

Partially, if I really like the work I will definitely try to pick up the artist’s technique and make it my own. But I also see artwork as a way to explore the world through someone else's perspective. I find it fascinating, how differently we all see what’s around us.

What inspires you to make work?

My paintings are largely based on dreams. My most recent project are collage paintings of dreams that I had, as far as I can remember. Most of them are very graphic and vivid, so are the colors I use.

How did this project start?

I’ve always been into science-fiction and the paranormal. In high school, I wrote a research paper on dreams which spiked my interest in this subject. I stumbled upon an article on lucid dreaming that talked about how some artists use the technique to find inspiration. I felt really stuck with my creative process so I’ve trained myself to do that. However, in my case, it went really bad. I would always have nightmares and ended up in sleep paralysis a few times as well. I stopped lucid dreaming for that reason, but I still felt inspired to do more research into the topic - dream therapy, meaning of dreams etc. It was what compelled me to start my dream diary project too.

How does the process of creating this kind of dream diary work?

I either make sure to have something to write near me to make notes, or just try scribbling on the canvas itself, half asleep :). In the morning, I return to the painting and fill it with color and details. Usually, one piece contains a few different dreams, unrelated but put together in a collage. In a way, it’s my form of mind-mapping. Sometimes, there are motives that repeat, which is something that I try to look out for.

Can you tell us about some of the recurring symbols from your dreams?

In a lot of them I find myself running away from something or someone. There is a lot of scary characters involved too, for example once I saw this joker-looking guy staring right at me. I often also see vehicles, either just there or me riding them. The three people pictured in the cut piece were a group I met (in the dream) in my neighbourhood, I knew they were bad news. I later saw them trying to get into my house. Plenty of similar episodes.

Is there a reason you recently started to cut your canvas?

In the past I tried to fit my subject into a square canvas, but as I got more involved in the project it became frustrating. My professor suggested I start working on a loose base which could be modified depending on where I go with the painting. There is no meaning to where the canvas were cut, but I wanted the piece to look more like a sketch of my mind than a painting.

Do you have some artists in particular that inspire you?

Recently, I’ve been following Felicia Forte, whom I found through Instagram. I love the way she works, both in technique and color palette. I think the way I’ve been painting recently is heavily influenced by her.

You’re not the first person that mentioned Instagram as a way to find artists that inspire your work.

I think social media overall made it easy to connect to so much artwork as well as the artists. Not only Instagram but also Pinterest and the like. A lot of my inspiration comes from the internet, but I try to go to exhibitions as often as possible since it’s very different to see a piece in real life, compared to a flat screen of a phone. Also, it’s very easy to become stuck on trends, so broadening your scope of research is an important part of finding your unique voice.

Do you see yourself pursuing Art professionally?

Yes! I hope that in the future I will be able to pursue both painting and photography. I’m interested in doing commissions as I feel I do well with that kind of work.

What is your idea of artistic success?

I want to share what I see, but at the end of the day it’s up to the audience to interpret the meanings behind my work. Also, while I’m a pretty quiet person, deep down I want to stand out. Meaning, I want to be known for my paintings and for my style to be unique one. I guess, as long as I’m able to be myself and pursue art on my own terms, I will be happy.


Thank you Phyo for taking the time to talk about your work with me!

Check her Instagram to see more of her work, both photography and paintings.

Artist Spotlight is a weekly series hoping to promote local creatives from TUJ and beyond. We aim to cover a diverse range of artist from variety of fields, so please follow us to read a new episode every Wednesday!

Contact us to if you want your work to be featured or know an artist who’s a good fit to our mission and you think deserves more attention!

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