The exhibitions showcase some of the most creative expressions of the artistic influence offered by Indonesia. (The Peak Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

A Contrast of Artistic Visions

MAY 14, 2015

The exhibitions showcase some of the most creative expressions of the artistic influence offered by Indonesia. (The Peak Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The lotus flowers floated in the pond, their shapes and colors deftly captured by late Indonesian artist Rd. Tohny Joesoef.

Titled “Teratai B” [“Lotus B”], the oil and canvas work epitomized serenity and an affinity with nature similar to Monet’s “Water Lily” paintings. 

Like the Impressionist master, Tohny also portrayed the lotus’ contrasting shades in different times of day, as seen in the companion paintings “Teratai” and “Pagi Yang Cerah,” or “A Clear Morning.”

Made between 1972 and 1991, Tohny rendered the sprawled lotus flowers in a vivid pink in “Teratai B”, to a shade of white rendered more startling by the greenish foliage in the background. 

His deft eye and sure touch is just as apparent in the still life works “Sandal Isteriku” [“My Wife’s Sandals”] and “Mandolinku,” or “My Mandolin.” 

Created during the waning years of the Sukarno era, the painting’s Pointillist and Mannerist style reflected art critic Eddy Hermanto’s observation of how Tohny and other artists based in Bandung “adapted Western Modernist styles to Indonesian themes, making it a ‘Western laboratory,’ even as President Sukarno stirred up political propaganda against the West. The artists then used those styles to create the foundations of modern Indonesian art.” 

The paintings are part of “Pada Cermin: Pameran Retrospektif Rd. Tohny Joesoef” or “On Mirror: A Retrospective Exhibition [of] Rd. Tohny Joesoef.” 

One of two exhibitions currently held at the National Gallery in Jakarta, the retrospective sought to show Tohny’s lesser known standing as a stalwart of modern Indonesian art instead of his better known reputation as an art teacher, following his founding of the Linggar Sari and Olah Seni art studios in Bandung. 

A protege of Indonesian painting greats S. Sudjojono and R. Roedyat at the Young Indonesian Artists Academy in Yogyakarta, Tohny proves his mastery of painting through various works which show his versatility. 

These include a sensitive portrait of Indonesian founding father Chaerul Saleh, a series of watercolors of beaches, as well as pen drawings of natural scenes.

While “On Mirror” shed light on Tohny’s work, it also features the art of his sons Hassan Pratama, Syarief Hidayat, Arya Pandjalu, and Arya Sukapura Putra. 

“[‘On Mirror’] shows an artistic process that transcends generations between Tohny and his sons” says National Gallery Chairman Tubagus Andre Sukmana. 

Curator Rizki A. Zaelani agrees. 

“The works [‘On Mirror’] might differ in artistic outlook, medium or technique. But the exhibition is still interesting because it brings up the principle of similarity in diversity.”

Tohny’s son Arya Pandjalu reflected Rizki’s observation with his installation artwork “Break Free.” 

“ ‘Break Free’ addresses my developing views about environmentalism. It starts from my ignorance of the issue as a child to my developing awareness of it as I grew up,” Pandjalu said of the papier mache work, which was inspired by a portable, backpack like cage used by bird sellers to sell their avian pets. 

“It also alludes to the Javanese love of birdsongs and how they would ‘emulate’ their melody by speaking softly.”

“Break Free addresses how we talk of respecting life on one hand, yet deprive animals of their freedom by putting them in a literal or figurative cage or controlling their environment. The mask shows how we profess to save and identify with nature, even as we impose our will on it,” said the 38-year-old. 

“I opted to make [‘Break Free’] an installation piece because the medium allows me to express concepts or ideas more flexibly with textures, sounds and dimensions, instead of the limited two dimensional medium of painting.” 

“Break Free” outwardly has little in common with Tohny’s structured yet stately oils, watercolors and drawings. But Pandjalu says the difference is only skin deep. 

“ ‘Break Free’ and my other works owe much to my father’s in depth approach to an object and how to give it soul, substance and life. 

“The work, along with another installation piece called ‘Garden of Delight,’ brought up the themes of nature and our place in it that my father inculcated in us through firsthand exposure.”

Pandjalu’s older brother Syarief Hidayat affirmed their father’s legacy. 

“My art owes much to my father’s encouragement to artistically express oneself freely,” he said of his installation work “Rooster Man,” which touches on the public’s need for a hero. 

“This is essential in the making of ‘Rooster Man,’ as their perception of such a figure varies.” 

Syarief also carries on his father’s focus on education maintaining the painting studios Tohny founded.

Tohny’s youngest son Arya Sukapura Putra also reaped benefits from Tohny’s tutelage. 

“One of my father’s most invaluable lessons is his premise that art is fluid, not static, as its shaped by changing times and one’s imagination. He also encouraged me to create art for its own sake,” he said.

Sukapura’s “Global Series” reflect this premise in more ways than one. A series of watercolors taking on contemporary issues like the clash of civilizations, religious intolerance, and consumerism, Sukapura took on the subject matter with a tongue in cheek Surrealist touch reminiscent of Magritte, particularly his view of the world as a melting ice cream on a cone. 

But other globes topped with an archbishop’s miter (hat), a sheik’s headdress and a fedora hat is more ominous, as it juxtaposes religious beliefs with secularism.


West meets East

The sculpture looked out at the viewer, its colors distracting them from its intense gaze. 

Called “Archeologist With Lady Teacher’s Eye,” the work by Austrian artist Helmut Kand affirm his place as a surrealist and as the Austrian Embassy in Jakarta observed, “enables his audience to experience an outstanding aesthetic adventure.” 

Made in swirls of bright orange, blue and red, the sculpture and its painting counterpart “The Tired Eyes of the Night Guard,” Kand perhaps sought to show viewers his take on Indonesian art forms like barong masks or Javanese wooden masks painted over in batik. 

The two works are part of “Cosiness in the Labyrinth of Dreams,” a solo exhibition of Kand’s work that’s shown in the main building of the National Gallery. 

Held together with the Austrian Embassy, the exhibition features 72 paintings, graphic art and sculptures that show the indelible influence of Bali, where Kand has been living for dozens of years. 

What the embassy referred to as the island’s “lush green, gleaming sunlight, or the thousand colors of the Balinese landscape” can be seen in works like “Yellow Cosiness at Home in Blue” and “A Good Day Is Guaranteed For All.” 

Others, like “Bali — Lotus Pond,” show how Indonesia was seared in Kand’s psyche. 

“It was in Indonesia that [Kand] discovered a thousand shades of green that enrich his works” noted Austrian ambassador to Indonesia Andreas Karabaczek in a release on the exhibition. 

“The moist green of the jungle in the early morning, the light green of banana leaf wrappers, the dark green of rice terraces in the distance.” 

Featuring a geometric style reminiscent of Klimt and a surrealistic touch all his own, Kand’s work left an impression in more ways than one. 

“There are no limits [to] his fantasy, or for the imagination of their beholders. With his creations he also crosses the limits of known forms” says Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz. 

“The many aspects of Indonesia’s bliss as an equatorial state are vividly depicted in his bright and colorful works of art,” adds Indonesian Ambassador to Austria Rachmat Budiman. 

“It feels like Helmut Kand is telling a tale of Indonesia as a real fairytale country.” 

The Peak