In a country where brutal and arbitrary punishments have for decades been used to uphold strict social, religious, and political orthodoxies, the Burmese artist Bagyi Aung Soe spent a lifetime trying to create a way of being that enabled him to live and work with relative freedom. If Burmese art was defined by displays of self-conscious erudition and technical virtuosity, Aung Soe would scrawl his works in cheap coloring pens. If decorum demanded one dress according to rank or class, Aung Soe would alternate between sportswear and religious costume.

Aung Soe, who is currently the subject of an extraordinary exhibition at the Pompidou Center, in Paris (through August 23), was born in 1924 to affluent parents, a police superintendent and an heiress, in what was then colonial Burma (now Myanmar). Like many Southeast Asian artists of his generation, he grew up captivated by the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin. But after Burma achieved independence, in 1948, it was his cartoons that propelled him to critical notice.