Helmut Kand, right, with the Austrian ambassador to Indonesia, Andreas Karabaczek. (JG Photo/Marlene J. Lucas)

A Journey Into Kand-y Fairy Land


MAY 18, 2015

Jakarta. One gazes at the works of prolific Austrian painter Helmut Kand and the eye is immediately bombarded with a color-rich scheme of dazzling hues, fertile fields filled with mythical monsters, slumbering maidens, faceless temple worshipers, and phantasmagorical denizens of the subconscious mind.

Painting was to be Kand’s calling. He was born and raised in an art-loving family in Upper Styria, Austria.

“I clearly remember that at the age of 4, I painted over the watercolor landscape of my father, an artist and lyric poet. My first masterpiece,” he proudly recalls.

Finishing high school at 20, he set off on a pilgrimage to Salvador Dali, considered the greatest of the Surrealists painters, who lived in Spain’s Port Lligat. Returning to Vienna a year later, in 1967, Kand studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under renowned Austrian art professors and painters.

“That year was also the beginning of my love affair with the Greek island of Ios, where I spent over 40 summers of my artistic life,” Kand says.

Kand crisscrossed the island on foot and gathered impressions of deserted gardens, dried-up wells, chirping cicadas and sleeping cats.

“On Ios, everything is different: the light, the day’s rhythm, the non-existence of time measurers and calendars,” he says.

By 22, Kand had successfully exhibited his works in London, where he staged a public incineration of his paintings. That created a huge stir and brought him popularity. He gets inspiration even from the simple act of doodling.

“[When talking o]n the phone, I often doodle on a piece of paper. These idle scribbles come from my subconscious and I am often amazed that they sometimes reflect the person I am talking to. I use these doodles as a welcome source of details for my paintings,” Kand says.

“In my travels, I often make recordings of market babble, wind chimes, people’s chatter. I sketch what I see and experience, then they belong to me forever.”

Kand first came to Indonesia in 1990, where he was mesmerized by the magical cultures and landscapes of Yogyakarta and Bali. If the blues and browns of his Grecian habitat characterized his earlier work, Kand’s color palette is now imbued with innumerable nuances of green, red, orange and yellow. Most of all he takes pride in discovering the many thousand shades of green that power his works.

“I call myself a poetic surrealist,” he says.

Kand has created works of art that bubble over with dizzying bursts of unending colors and swirling gradations of hues.

A cultural and philosophical movement that began in France in the mid-1920s, Surrealism’s followers believed that to find truth in the world was through the subconscious mind and dreams, rather than logical thought. Many artists who belonged to this movement produced works that made little sense to the layman, as they depicted their ideas through disconcerting, irrational scenes, sexual tension, or random thoughts.

Kand’s latest 12-day “Coziness in the Labyrinth of Dreams” exhibition of 72 paintings, sculptures and graphic arts pieces at the National Gallery in Jakarta ended on May 11. It was not at all a cozy, lazy stroll, but more a violent thrust into this surrealist painter’s uncanny whirlpool of emotions.

The works showed a marriage of East and West, of bridging the two diverse worlds with rainbow elements of his artistic past and present. His watercolors and bright acrylic oeuvres portrayed placid temple scenes, playful Balinese dancers, luscious green rice terraces, stately palm trees, mythical birds, lotus ponds, parasols, and graceful, drooping penjor (a long tapered bamboo pole considered a temporary “throne” of the gods). Also present were demon-faced ogoh-ogoh, (Balinese monster statues) built for the Ngrupuk parade (performed to ward off negative influences) that take place on the eve of Nyepi (the Balinese Hindu day of silence).

Kand collaborates with famous Balinese woodcarver Ketut Radio to create his three-dimensional series of sculptures from albizia wood, based on particular motifs found in his paintings.

Most eye-catching were the humorous pieces “Archäologen mit Lehrerinnenblick” (“Archaeologists with Female Teachers’ Eyes”), the same objects juxtaposed against a somber background of leafless trees and cloudy, twilit skies in his painting “Oga Oga.” The figures looked more like bespectacled, goggle-eyed governesses with striped moustaches.

Because of this passion for Indonesia, Kand has been awarded the distinct title of “Foreign-Born Indonesian Artist.” He adds this honor to being appointed the “Painting Ambassador” of Ios, as well as the appellation “Professor” bestowed on him by Austrian President Heinz Fischer in 2006.

Professor Kand’s excursions into the poetic and profound are evident in the captions of his works. “The title of a painting plays a major role for me. I collect keywords and half-sentences, combine them as they are best suitable,” he says. He concerns himself that the titles are “poetic, light and loose.”

Zu Weit Gereist für nur Zwei Küsse” (“Traveled Too Far for Only Two Kisses”) — two pairs of humanoid profiles appear to be connected via their tongues — and  “Gespiegelte Grandezza” (“Reflected Grandeur”) — flowing female figures forming what remind one of female anatomical organs — are two striking works that give the viewer a visceral jolt with Kand’s fantastical, whimsical imagery.

Kand’s exhibition was well-visited by an endless stream of young people who clearly enjoyed the richly hued paintings and sculptures.

“I observed how the spectators would react to my work. It had a fiesta atmosphere, a carnival of teenagers posing in front of a series of works, many taking selfies alone or in jostling happy groups,” Kand says.

A trio of giggling girls even brought their professional tripod and camera and posed, backs bent, fists clenched, bird-like on one leg, in front of three paintings. “I couldn’t help feeling good that my work is appreciated by the young people.”

Kand has his dreams. “I don’t have any unfulfilled dreams. But a new dream just crossed my mind, that some day I would have my own museum, where my artistic work would be gathered under one roof.”