Yogyakarta’s Wedhar Riyadi work has recontextualized Western pop culture in Indonesian settings. (Photos courtesy of Wedhar Riyadi)

‘Chaos and Violence but With Dashes of Humor’: Artist Wedhar Riyadi

JANUARY 21, 2015

Born and bred in Yogyakarta, Wedhar Riyadi is a crucial player in the city’s art scene.

Having made his name during the late 1990s, Wedhar’s art is known for its layers of sociopolitical signification that emerged as a reaction to the country’s turmoil during the late Suharto era and the years that followed. 

Though his style has shifted dynamically throughout the years, Wedhar’s most well-known trait is his use of grotesquely rendered pop-culture animated characters, cast into semi-surrealist situations.

Disney characters and iconic figures such as Bart Simpson are depicted in oozing, saturated colors against grimy dystopian backdrops. The result is a hypnotic car crash, impossible to look away from. 

The 35-year-old’s work has appeared on a slew of different mediums throughout the years — murals, stickers, poster, comics, paintings, and drawings. 

He actively participates in both solo and group exhibitions that have garnered him even more recognition from art luminaries outside Yogyakarta nationwide.

Influenced in the beginning by art and design icons like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, as well as massively influential comic artists such as Robert Crumb, Charles Burn, and Raymond Pettibon, Wedhar has gone on to grow far beyond his influences into his own style — though his affinity for Pop Art and comic-styled illustrations remain obvious in his pieces.

“Those artists [were influential], because they were names I was most familiar with during my teenage years,” Wedhar explains.

“In the beginning, my visual style was heavily influenced by comic books illustrations with their characters, which I put within the context of local [Indonesian] culture, as examination of the cultural differences between the East and West, and traditional and modern. Chaos and violence but with dashes of humor.”

His next step was to merge two differentiating art styles to create even more esoteric visuals. 

“I mixed two different modes into one landscape: realist photography blended together with comic styled illustrations to add a sense of the dramatic,” Wedhar says. 

What the artist was going for, in his words, was something that would speak directly and in an explicit yet colorful manner about “issues of violence, contradiction, and tension through a personal perspective.”

“On my last few pieces, I tried to start from ideas about violence by using images that take into consideration the essence of the theme, so I shed myself of the comic style that I have been known for, at least for a while,” Wedhar says.

He uses imageries of bones and skeletons which are then distorted through colors “using vivid colors such as on TV, LCD screens, or stage lightning” that represent news reports about violence occurrences, conflicts, and disputes that according to him are “often reported with various versions [of events], [and] often bias.”

Still, with his instantly recognizable sense of visualization and approach, Wedhar has trouble explaining his personal style, which he considers always dynamic, depending on what themes and approaches are on the table.

“Usually I begin from a sketch or basic plan before then choosing the kind of medium that would be suitable, [and decide] whether it is best executed in drawing, painting, or three-dimensional pieces. 

“There isn’t any particular mood that I require in order to create, except maybe just putting on my favorite pieces of music for company,” Wedhar says.

For the artist, trying to keep some sort of consistent aesthetic seems like a no concern, instead it is about setting a certain mood and distinguishable personal quality. 

“[My goal is] plenty of elements with contrasting particles, but with a common thread of a unique atmosphere.”