Burmese days, Myanmar, 2006/09

Woodcut, monotype and sometimes thread, print onto handmade traditional Burmese paper.


Inspired by the rich textiles of Burma and the unique shapes of traditional Burmese clothing, French artist Agathe Bouton explores the beauty and meaning of these fabrics through her exquisite wood engravings.

Her pieces hint at lives led within these precious textiles as they are worn, washed, faded by the sun, lashed by the rain, torn, repaired and worn again.

Her aim was never to mimic the fabric exactly, but to reflect the lifespan of a textile - from the intricacies of the original sewing to the repairs, often crude, that add layers of colour and interest.

The artist shows us that these deeply valued textiles bear witness to the lives of people who grow, play, work, celebrate and die within them. We are challenged to imagine moments of these lives – the special and the mundane.

“I was inspired by the idea that the textiles had a life – I thought of a woman who wore a skirt or a tunic, worked in it, washed it, mended it, that she wore it until it was completely worn out,” Agathe said. “I wanted to bring her life into the light.”

The Blue Series is Agathe’s latest work: bolder, circular pieces which reflect her growing confidence with the techniques of wood engraving. Her inspiration this time came from the shape of a pleated skirt find in eastern Shan State. 

The artist worked in shades of indigo, one of the natural dyes used in eastern Shan State. She played with superimpositions to add layers of colour, carving radial lines and concentric circles to give the sense of a skirt flared out in full spin. 

Some observers may glimpse something else in these powerful circles – a water lily, an eye or even a planet.

Agathe’s work is laborious and physical. Concerned more about the result than the technique, she experiments and improvises.

Working on large sheets of plywood, she engraves using small metal sculptor’s tools, and even some dentist’s tools. She prints by hand onto handmade local paper, producing a unique piece of art each time.

Ros Russell