Affandi – Indonesia’s best known modern painter

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Affandi Koesoema. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

IO – Affandi Koesoema (Cirebon, West Java, 1907 – May 23, 1990) is one of the Indonesian modern art leaders whose work embraces pure expressionism. But at first, Affandi’s career showed his art style in a more realistic, “photographic” style of painting, depictions from snapshots.

In producing his works, Affandi used a pastel paint medium, a signs of not-clearly-revealed psychological factors. An example of Affandi’s pastel medium work is “Kartika Affandi” (1939) and “Mother” (1940).

The accuracy of his realistic paintings shows how he mastered technique, but there are also realist paintings with rhythms showing traces pointing to expressionism, as shown in the painting entitled “Self Portrait” (1944), using a watercolour-tracing impressionist style, and another oil painting called “Learning Anatomy” (1948). In this particular painting, Affandi began pouring his emotions through the objects he painted. He not only demonstrates his mastery over the object’s visual impression, but the mastery of emotions and aesthetics begins to be reflected.

Impressive painting talent in Affandi was an interesting part of his life story. He received a scholarship for painting at Santiniketan, India, a college founded by Rabindranath Tagore. When he arrived in India, he rejected the idea right away, claiming that he was no longer in need of any painting education. With no second thoughts, he deliberately used the scholarship allowance to hold exhibitions around Indian territory.

Coming back from India and Europe in the 1950s, Affandi was nominated by PKI [the Indonesian Communist Party] to represent a non-party bloc in the Constituent election. And he was chosen, along with Prof. Ir. Saloekoe Poerbodiningrat, to represent non-parties. In a constituent session, according to Basuki Resobowo who is also a painter, Affandi was mostly just silent or even sleep. But when the court session began, Affandi often spoke up. He entered the Humanitarian [Human Rights] Commission led by Wikana, Affandi’s close friend since before the revolution.

Topics raised by Affandi were about persecution, not humanity, and were considered jokes back in the day. Affandi was a humble painter who was still close to flora, fauna, and the environment, despite living in a modern era. When Affandi questioned ‘Perikebinatangan’ in 1955, public awareness of the environment was still very low.

Affandi is a figure who did not discriminate against ethnicity or origin. As a “regular painter”, Affandi is Affandi: he does not philosophize in his paintings, though he paints beggars, homeless people, or even himself. Affandi only describes life itself. His ideas and objects were interconnected and he always explored the object of his painting beforehand.

From the 1960s to the end of his life, Affandi applied distinctive techniques by squeezing the paint directly from its tube onto the canvas. He discovered this technique accidentally when finishing a painting: suddenly his brush was damaged, so in order to continue painting, Affandi squeezed the paint directly from the tube to the canvas, then used the back of his hand to produce curved lines.

Affandi puts his creativity in emotional gratification and instincts to create the beauty that evolved in the spontaneous creation process, in accordance with his object and current mood.

Affandi paints effectively. He finished each painting in no time; this was an incomparable ability. He painted by squeezing the paint directly from its tube to the canvas. It reflects a mixture of instincts, wit, and an awareness of the object. (raihan)