Painter Roby Dwi Antono says he prefers viewers to generate their own interpretation of his work, but doesn’t mind explaining their New Age symbolism. (Photos courtesy of Roby Dwi Antono)

The Sentimental Surrealism of Artist Roby Dwi Antono

JANUARY 07, 2015

Painter Roby Dwi Antono says he prefers viewers to generate their own interpretation of his work, but doesn’t mind explaining their New Age symbolism. (Photos courtesy of Roby Dwi Antono)

Semarang painter Roby Dwi Antono’s pieces may not win points for originality, but that does not at all diminish their eye-popping value. Surreal absurdism at its finest, Roby focuses on creating persons and creatures of fantastical appearances conveying melancholic grace and a mysterious playfulness.

Focusing mostly, though not exclusively, on darker-hued color palettes, Roby’s paintings exudes mild gloom often balanced with a devilish charm.

Born in 1990 in Semarang, Roby remembers drawing since his kindergarten years. It’s an interest he’s had since his earliest memories, and one which he began to seriously develop after high school.

Roby’s first job was as a graphic designer at a Yogyakarta firm. The company exclusively handled high school yearbooks. There, he went through a self-imposed polishing process of his artistry, graduating from simply using his hands to create to utilizing a computer to add finishing touches to his drawings and paintings.

From there, Roby jumped into painting on canvas — a medium that requires time to master just the fundamentals

His first exhibition was at Yogyakarta’s Tirana House, with a piece titled “Pilu Lalu” (“Pain Subsides”), where he also showcased some of his mechanical-pencil paper drawings.

The positive reaction and his own growing confidence convinced Roby to fully focus on becoming an artist. He quit his job with the goal to “continue experimenting to create something better than whatever came before,” in his words.

Influenced by a variety of painters, including the pop surrealism of American painter Mark Ryden and Philippine artist Marion Peck, Roby’s technical and detailed paintings quickly turned heads with in the Indonesian art world, as well as the creative scene in general.

The influence of Ryden and Peck is something Roby proudly acknowledges. Though relatively young, Roby says he plumbs the depths of his imagination and surroundings for inspiration when creating, resulting in personal pieces filled with empathy.

“Pilu Lalu was based on a friend I had [as a child] in my home village, who lost both his parents in an accident. The painting is about evoking that struggle of survival he endured when that happened.”

Visually, Roby says he balances the satirical with the morose, “to create something that looks funny and cute at the outset, which then reveals its darker side.”

For the painter, what he feels and what he conveys are not mutually exclusive, and he prefers viewers to generate their own meaning. 

“I refer to things based on what I feel and see, and I visualize that. I then combine the figures and objects I draw with whatever is in my imagination. I hope to communicate that with an audience that will have their own interpretations of the pieces,” Roby explains.

To grow and develop his art, Roby spends plenty of time digging through the local art scene, and looking at what his seniors have created. He also likes to watch videos of them working and honing their craft to get a sense of what and where inspiration truly comes from. 

This, he says, is the most inspiring part of his process.

(Photos courtesy of Roby Dwi Antono)

Roby’s love of Surrealism is apparent in how he mixes “1990s boy” references with the satirical tenor of more current artists.

“Surrealism combines real world objects with things from the imagination, which can mean jovial things meeting scarier elements. That can be scary, but that is life and that is reality,” he says.

Also apparent in his paintings is an effort to insert value in his paintings, which — within certain crowds — can slide by simply by their visual strength. While their quasi-New Age philosophy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Roby is clearly driven by something more than a desire to make pretty images.

In “Way of Grace,” an anthropomorphic female rabbit appears to have her eyes closed, as if “she was lifeless.” On her body, a tree grows, symbolizing the life cycle that occurs in nature. 

“When someone dies, they will then live another life, as my religion believes. You will also a see a small fly in the painting, which symbolizes death and sorrow. The mountains and sky behind are meant to balance a sense of peace and calm.”

Through his paintings, Roby seeks to present a life that is filled with as much joy as sadness. 

“What I want is for people to look at the paintings and smile, but also stand there stunned or with a sense of sadness.”