One of Sasya Tranggono's Wayang Paintings. (Photo courtesy of Sasya Tranggono)

From Cosmetics Giant Heir to Full-Fledged Artist: Sasya Tranggono's Metamorphosis


MAY 31, 2018

Jakarta. Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," a fresco on the wall of a dining room at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is one of the most famous murals in the history of art, and maybe the most riffed on in pop culture. Everyone from Robert Altman in M*A*S*H to The Simpsons has done a version. Now it's the turn of local artist Sasya Tranggono – also the heir of the Ristra cosmetics emporium – to do a wayang, or leather puppet, version of the depiction of Jesus and his 12 disciples.

Staying true to her penchant for bright colors and distinct lines, Sasya's version of the Last Supper features wayang characters – in their leather puppet versions – in bold shades of gold-yellow, violet, moss-green and various hues of blue.

'The Last Supper' in CYAN. (Photo courtesy of Sasya Tranggono)

Sasya, who only started painting in her late 30s in 1989, said her use of wayang motifs, which appear in many of her works, is her way of showing and underlining her Indonesian identity.

"I think life is a stage play. So every wayang I paint is different. The stories are alive, no character is ever the same," Sasya said.

Sasya's artworks have been collected by famous figures including former Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri, former Philippine president Corazon Aquino and one of the most famous private art collectors in Indonesia, Oey Hong Djien.

Sasya is currently touring Europe to secure exhibition spots. This year her works are already scheduled for exhibitions at Troppenmuseum in the Netherlands and in galleries in Paris, Lisbon, Budapest and Belgrade.

After her European sojourn, Sasya will hold show in Asian countries including Japan, Hongkong and Singapore.

From Skincare to Art

Sasya's art studio is tucked away in an attic in her spacious resident in South Jakarta. Her art may adorn the walls of famous people's homes, but Sasya prefers to hang paintings by her sons in her own house.

As the heir of Ristra, a well-known cosmetics company in Indonesia, Sasya was expected to help run the family business after university and her parents, who are both doctors, sent her overseas to study engineering in the United States and then management in the Netherlands.

Sasya's mother, Retno Tranggono, now 78 years old, is a skin specialist who struck gold when she found a face cream recipe that became a best seller. Her home workshop soon grew into one of the biggest cosmetics brands in Indonesia with a total revenue of over Rp 55 billion in 2015.

"My parents used to think you can't make a career out of being an artist. But they now recognize time has changed, musicians and film stars now earn a lot of money. Even painters can live off their art," Sasya said.

Sasya was first introduced to serious art by her Indonesian dentist when she was studying in Rotterdam. After one of her visits, the dentist’s wife took her out to an art exhibition and Sasya was hooked.

"I was like, wow, how come I'm not studying this instead? There was some regret there," she said.

Sasya's lack of artistic background caused her troubles. She used to be ridiculed by other artists and whenever she scored a spot in an exhibition, rumors went around that her family must have bribed the curators.

Undaunted, Sasya pushed on with her new passion, taking workshops with art teachers while continuing to work at Ristra.

She first learned how to draw still life, painting copious bowls of fruits on a table. She then took up an interest in flowers.

'Hold Me and Make Me' by Sasya Tranggono, watercolor on canvas, painted in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Sasya Tranggono)

"Flowers are very beautiful, always colorful. They're like life. That's why I like strong colors: orange, fuschia, magenta, blue – which one I use will depend on my mood," Sasya said.

After flowers, her next obsessions were wayang and butterflies. Painting wayang is her way to reconnect with her home country, and the butterfly is her favorite symbol for the "evolution" of her life.

"[It's a symbol for] the metamorphosis of life. My past is messy but God took care of me, now my life is like a beautiful butterfly," she said.

According to Sasya, different markets want different types of painting from her. European galleries like her wayang paintings, Singapore wants butterflies and flowers, and one gallery in Budapest made a specific request for tropical flowers so Sasya painted sunflowers, orchids and ginger flowers for them.

She has also added jewelry to her butterfly paintings at her son's suggestion.

"He said my butterfly paintings were boring and suggested I should put decorative stones on them," Sasya said.

New Biography

Sasya's metamorphosis from being the heir of the Ristra business empire to a full-fledged artist will be told in her biography "Faith," written by Bali-based art writer Jean Couteau and set for release in August.

"This book will be part of my legacy," Sasya said.