Jakarta-based illustrator Ruth Marbun showcases her new pieces, which use unique mixed-media collage techniques, in an exhibition that runs through Sept. 1. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Marbun)

The Role of Time in Ruth Marbun’s Artistic Progress

AUGUST 09, 2015

Inside a narrow room at Suar Artspace in Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta, two adjacent wooden frames of watercolor paintings are on display in one corner. Each is dominated by a background of bold yellow-tinged paint strokes and imbued with Expressionist depictions of scenes from everyday life: a house surrounded by shrubs, laundry being dried on a balcony railing, a bed inside a room.

Upon closer inspection, though, it slowly becomes apparent that the artist has glued bits of paper or canvas – cut in an amorphous shape or in the form of plants – onto her work. In “Melepaskan Alas Kaki” (“Taking Off One’s Shoes”), for instance, a tiny rendering of a boy has his face entirely covered by a scrap of paper, with grass sprouting above him.

This unique mixed-media collage technique underlies all 14 illustrations showcased in Ruth Marbun’s exhibition that runs through Sept. 1. In these new pieces, the Jakarta-based illustrator includes tiny bits of her earlier work into the painting, thus creating original assemblages that captivate.

“They are random cuts from my previous failed work, from my first day in college to the ones I made [more recently],” the artist told the Jakarta Globe. “Proving that each of them can blend well with my current work has strengthened my belief that we, as human, develop from things we like or dislike, succeed or fail in, realize or ignore. Every bit of it forms our present.”

The exhibition, titled “Waktu Tak Pandai Berbohong” (“Time Is Not a Good Liar”), is a nod to the role of time in the artist’s creative journey, which is characterized by many ups and downs.

After working as a stylist and subsequently starting a fashion label with friends in Singapore, Ruth returned to Jakarta in 2012 and wanted to do something different. Despite being trained in fashion design, she tried to explore the possibility of becoming an illustrator. She initially started out by illustrating for her friend’s street-style blog. Invigorated by the quicker process of illustration, Ruth ended up fully focusing on it.

“I had to figure out my style, my voice and the correct medium all over again because drawing in design and in visual art is a whole different story,” she says.

Creative acceptance

In her exhibition, she intends to paint a picture of her struggle in transitioning from fashion to visual art. Ruth recalls how clueless and frustrated she felt during her first two years doing illustrations, but after a while she realized the importance of acceptance, especially of failures and mistakes, throughout the process.

“I am talking about how I value process and time as its currency,” she says. “Once I started to learn that process is more about acceptance rather than achieving a certain standard, that process takes its own time, I started to improve more and make more honest art.”

The artist visually translates this message into patinated rusty shades that suffuse all of her exhibited pieces. “I find it intriguing how rust can be very annoying or beautiful. Nevertheless, it was a symbol of existence through process,” she says, noting that her color palette is noticeably darker now.

As the two aforementioned illustrations attest, Ruth is constantly inspired by charming little things in her life, from a conversation between strangers she eavesdrops on, to fascinating tales in a podcast or a poem.

Her eclectic interests clearly inform the series of 12 smaller illustrations that are displayed together on one wall at the exhibition. These collages can be lazily described as abstract, but interesting stories appear to be embedded in each.

Living objects appear in the majority of pieces, from zoo animals to various representations of human beings. In “Cukup Banyak Tapi Tidak Sampai Seratus” (“Quite a Lot but Not Quite a Hundred”), a forlorn-looking lady looks out of a window, with colorful plants standing beside her.

Meanwhile, in “Hobi Proyeksi” (“Projection Hobby”), Ruth incorporates handwritten text – a signature element of her illustrations.

The surface of these illustrations appears to be placed atop other layers of paper and features jagged edges, perhaps to further drive the whole message about Ruth’s artistic process home.

Artist in progress

Through this exhibition, Ruth is the second artist to be featured in Suar Artspace’s “Artist in Progress” program, which will chronicle the development of emerging Indonesian artists through a documentary series.

“We want to share the art-making processes of these artists with the general public,” says Sarita Ibnoe, the art space manager. “So we invite them to hold exhibitions here and, at the same time, we will film the behind-the-scenes process [at each of their studios].”

The first documentary will be released after four artists participating in the program have exhibited their creations at Suar Artspace. In this program as well, Sarita and her small team have a mission to showcase artists working with a variety of media.

“There are so many illustrators in Indonesia now. Ruth is new to the scene, but we’ve been observing how rapid her progress is in only two years. That’s why it will be interesting to understand her process more deeply – how she can grow that fast,” Sarita says of Ruth’s exhibition.

“I find it interesting how Ruth is always spontaneous when it comes to her work. If she did not feel satisfied with her creation, she would either throw it away or overwrite it with a new collage.”

This spirit of constant reinvention is what keeps Ruth fearlessly striding forward in the art world. This solo exhibition is certainly a promising start for the artist, and this time around, she simply tries to enjoy the process.

“I wanted to challenge myself to trust my intuition wholeheartedly, so this time, each work started very innocently with no expected result,” she says. “Everything just flows step by step and ends up surprising myself each time.”

“Waktu Tak Pandai Berbohong” Through Sept. 1 Suar Artspace, Jalan Lebak Bulus 1 No. 55, South Jakarta facebook.com/suarartspace