It’s a long entry, be prepared.
On the occasion of I Nyoman Masriadi’s “Black is My Last Weapon” exhibition in Singapore Art Museum’s 8Qsam wing – this article is translated (by me) from Rustika Herlambang’s interview with I Nyoman Masriadi. You can find it in her blog and the August 2008 edition of the Indonesian fashion magazine, Dewi.
Conversations on Canvas
I Nyoman Masriadi
The house with the tall fence in the middle of paddy fields just outside Yogyakarta marks the home of I Nyoman Masriadi (b.1973). There, he lives with his wife, Anna, and his two children, while enjoying the peace and quiet. The cool pool, the blossoming yellow frangipani, the green grass, and the Meraja (small pura/temple) in the backyard, creates the atmosphere of Bali, the birthplace of the painter who is now hot topic among international auction houses.
The young artist has just been featured by Sotheby’s International Preview as one of the top masters and the world’s top contemporary artists. One of his works, “Jago Kandang” (Home Champion), is ranked first in Sotheby’s Top Ten Contemporary Southeast Asian Painting in the Asian Contemporary Art and Culture Magazine 2008. Within the past 2 years, the price of his works has reached new records. His last piece, “Sudah Biasa Ditelanjangi” (Used to being Stripped), was sold at a fantastic price in a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong.
His first solo exhibition is now ongoing in the Singapore Art Museum. “Since every last piece my paintings were sold, I had to borrow from collectors”, said Masriadi who’s known to be a prolific artist. He doesn’t compromise on standards and is always progressive in thoughts.
Amir Sidharta, art critic and owner of Sidharta Auction House, mentioned that the current market anticipates new works by Masriadi. They are considered to represent the spirit of contemporary art through his witty, smart, and unique characters.
Take a look at “Facial”, 2008 (Not Usually Painful). In it, a picture of a mid-age male in white headband cringing in pain while his sexy skin therapist (visualised by a mini-skirt that reveals her thighs) squeezes his pimples with a somewhat bloody consequences. In a speech balloon, “Oomnya terharu” (His uncle was touched). In “Bingkisan”, 2006 (the Package), a skinny woman in underwear holds a package that is four or five times her size while expressing longing through her eyes. The effect of his work does not only stop at the viewer’s vision but invites knee-jerk reactions, generate imagination, and conversations.
On canvas his works are rich in stories and even tend to be chatty, but Masriadi is rarely so. Gallery owners and art critics who know him personally agree that Masriadi is a quiet figure, even sometimes seemingly indifferent. Maybe Anna, his wife, could be a better spokesperson. But is that so?
“I don’t mean to be unfriendly to people, but I just need some warming up”, said Masriadi who looks filled with good humour. According to fellow painter Rudi Mantofani, conversing intimately with Masriadi requires you to tune into the same wavelength as his. “Building trust and opennes to people is not an easy task for me”. Masriadi is rarely found in art meetings or exhibition openings, he prefers to stay at home and play computer games.
He looks enthusiastic when talking about games. “Computer games are fun. There are tasks to finish and when we do, we feel like the greatest”. He also gets his inspirations from computer games. “I’m into RF now. I can spend hours in front of the computer, even spending longer time than I do for work. Ha ha ha… But clearly, it is where I can escape to”
“I like living in solitude. Ever since I was a kid I never wanted to follow my parents, like the Balinese tradition that requires me and my family to stay with my parents. I can’t imagine living with the family of my five siblings. Furthermore I’m the middle-child. Makes me a little paranoid thinking about that. Ha ha ha..”
Raised in an environment saturated with Balinese art, Masriadi eventually departed from his traditional roots although it is never completely gone. Just look at how he decorates his house or frangipanis in his paintings. His difference in style with traditional Balinese artists did make Anna question her husband. Especially when they were living in a narrow rented house and a baby was on the way. “Why do you paint such plump figures while other people paint such beautiful pictures?”
As usual, Masriadi didn’t budge. He kept producing pieces inspired by clash of cultures and inconsistencies in daily matters. Yogyakarta and its people, with its conversation puns and accepting way of life, becomes his ideal castle of imagination.
He is inspired by daily life. “There’s no particular process. Just sitting here, I’ve already got an idea for my work,” he says while smoking and sipping on a glass of orange juice and vodka. “In college I was influenced by the masters. But too many concepts stifle my creativity. I don’t want to be bound by concepts.”
Masriadi didn’t complete his degree from the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI). “I just couldn’t create 30 paintings for my final project.” For him, painting does not only mean putting ideas on canvas. He puts his heart and soul into it. “I used to be afraid of speaking in public. When I’m forced to, I get stage fright and start trembling. So instead of getting bombarded with questions on the concepts of my work, I just create paintings that are easily understood.”
After he decided to quit his studies, he felt he has more freedom to create without having to explain the meaning of each of his painting. In the last decade, he has struggled and matured into his current style. “Life is a daily struggle. But for me, it’s just fun..”
“When people talk about business, there’s profits and loss involved. Me, I’m making art. Making art feels like being a God. I can do what I like doing everyday. Maybe this is different from other people. Can you call this a struggle?” He bursts into laughter after seeing the expression on his wife’s face.
Anna plays an amazingly big role in Masriadi’s life and work. She devotes her life for Masriadi and is unseparable from his success: she stays up with him until late at night while he paints, accompanies him to the internet-cafe and picks him up in the morning, host visits with Masriadi, and takes care of their children. Their teamwork contributes to Masriadi’s growth through time as an artist.