Vukar Lodak in front of his painting, "Memoar Jemuran Ibu" ("Memoirs of Mother's Laundry"). (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Murky Artworks Find Clarity

MARCH 25, 2015

The dark figure of the man sitting on the bed epitomized despair. Titled " Memoar Lelaki dan Bayangannya " or "Memoirs of a Man and His Shadow," the weight of the past seemed to drag him down.

The title seemed a misnomer, as one wondered if the man was the shadow in question. The mass next to him perhaps allude to his subconscious as much as it does to the shadow of the painting.

The effect is akin to an individual left immaterial in his present, as his  past hovers behind him.

Another piece, " Memoar Jemuran Ibu " ["Memoirs of Mother's Laundry"] seemed a bittersweet memento to the past.

Made in the sketchy yet vivid strokes of van Gogh, the white sheet flapping on the clothesline contrasted with the murky facade.

"Memoirs are one's way to remember the dead or the past. Often they are repressed or traumatic, like so many of the memories that make up the human experience," said Vukar, the artist.

"Like so many painful things, they surface when they're triggered by something we see or feel."

"Memoar Lelaki dan Bayangannya" and "Memoar Jemuran Ibu" were featured at Spirit Indonesia, a joint exhibition, which recently had its run at Jakarta's Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center.

The works recall the 45 year old's grim circumstances growing up in Palembang, South Sumatra.

"I grew up near a swampy part [of Palembang] that had no electricity. The shades and shadows weren't just brushstrokes; they were really what I saw in the evenings," Vukar said.

"At dusk, the trees near my home cast long shadows. They seem to hover over us and leave their presence in our psyche, as does specks of fireflies, which are traditionally believed to be the spirits of the dead."

Vukar's painting " Jalan Rawa Menuju Desa " ["A Swampy Road to the Village"] alludes to this.

Set against an overcast sky, the trees seem to lead into a dark shadowy path, where the past, present and future seem to blur.

Vukar's works are also noted for their use of somber, yet striking shades varying from olive green, murky yellow to amber or crimson red.

He pointed out that the earthy tones have as much to do with the lives of those around him as the swampy surroundings.

"The reddish shades on the works are influenced by seeing people die firsthand, among them a friend of mine. When I grew up, people regularly carried knives, so stabbings or knife fights caused by hair trigger tempers as well as self defense occur regularly," he said.

"Subconscious memories of these incidents were triggered by news reports of political upheavals, the emergence of terrorist groups like Islamic State. [The paintings] reflect my despair and pessimism at the state of the world, loss of hopes with humanity, and musings of why there's so much evil in the world."

But not all is doom and gloom for Vukar.

"Dark shades aren't something that we get lost in. Instead they are a counterpoint for lighter colors and a platform for them to emerge," he said.

"I also balance dark colors, such as black with brown, to keep it from coming out dull. I also use gray as a base to be brushed over with ochre, olive green or Prussian blue."

"My paintings portray fragmented memories and images from my subconscious. For me, the subconscious is akin to chests filled with mementos of one's past," Vukar said.

"I also view paintings as a place where I can pour my heart and soul. They stem from an upheaval within myself that wants to be let out."

"The paintings are my form of spiritual meditation and prayer, while my more rational, worldly side is reflected by my work as an art critic for the Media Indonesia newspaper, as well as philosophy."

"Its also reflected by a multidiscipline approach that includes teaching Russian, work in theater, and being a violin teacher. Yet many people are unaware of my paintings, as they know me better as a journalist or teacher," said Vukar, who exhibited his works in Jakarta at venues including Erasmus Huis and Gedung Juang 45, as well as other parts of the country, such as his hometown Palembang.

"My paintings are a spiritual catharsis to deal with seeing the world go downhill. Its better to shown out it rather than having it as a burden on my conscience."

As far as he's concerned, painting is a spontaneous exercise unhampered by logic.

"When I paint, I just let it flow with no emotional or dramatic touches. My subconscious controls my hand in ways that has nothing to do with technique, and with a spontaneity more similar to poetry than prose," said Vukar, whose works evoke his artistic influences including JMW Turner and Francis Bacon.

"I use anger and other strong emotions to direct my work. In doing so, I seek to find purity or integrity through art, instead of making it as a career where I have to sacrifice my soul for commercial gain."

For most observers, Jakarta's hustle and bustle epitomized its place as the epicenter of Indonesia as a nation in the works. But Vukar begs to differ.

"[Jakarta] reminds me of a particularly savage village where survival of the fittest is a deadly game, and people seek profit or power without scruples," he said.

"Politicians jostle for power, oblivious of the public's circumstances. Its not helped by the fact that Jakarta's urbanity is only skin deep, as its really agrarian."

According to Vukar, Jakarta's ills extend also affected the development of the arts in Indonesia.

"Jakarta's standing as Indonesia's leading art market led other parts of the nation to see it as an artistic benchmark and market that they tailor to. Ideally they should only use it as a reference and instead allow their own arts to grow more naturally," he said.

"Jakarta is unable to develop a viable art scene because it uses the West as a yardstick."

"Ignorance of the arts is as detrimental to democracy as corruption. The role of education, whether it be institutional or as accumulated wisdom or experience, is indispensable, as it can raise awareness of both fields and bring them to the forefront," Vukar added .

He also disclosed that he's working on a painting of the Indonesian parliament building reflecting confidence in the institution.

The Peak

Vukar Lodak