Life is short -sketch it while you can!

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Agus Budiyanto and one of his earlier creations. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

IO – Art and culture is one of the most highly appreciated values in the Indo­nesian value system. Consequently, thousands if not millions of Indone­sians are involved in dance, music, textile production, drama, wayang and art. For those who are drawn to painting alone within the last ten­years several societies with interna­tional links that both professional as well as amateur artists can join, have been established in Indonesia.

I See Paradise#1 by Untoro. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

An exhibition was held by one of those societies namely, the Indone­sian branch of the International Wa­ter Colouring Society. It was held at the intricately carved, old Javanese Kompas Bentara Budaya building in Palmerah from the 5th till the 13th of July this year. Fifty-one members of the Indonesian branch of the Society participated in the exhibition which was entitled “Indonesia, Paradise on Earth”.

Efix Mulyadi, a fine arts journal­ist for Kompas who helped curate the exhibition seems to have been somewhat uncomfortable with both the subject as well as the title. Al­though he acknowledges the right of each person to interpret Indonesia as they please including seeing it as a paradise – he seemes uncomfortable with such an interpretation compar­ing the artists to the colonial artists somewhat dismissively referred to by the renown artist, Soedjojono, as the “Mooi Indies” or “Beautiful Indies” artists who were oblivious to the suf­fering and injustice around them.

Soedjojono wanted artists to also paint sugar factories and bone thin farmers. It is one way of approach­ing the subject but in defence of those who paint the Indonesian par­adise, how can one appreciate what is wrong if one has not also seen the beauty of Indonesia and what is right? And that, the artists of this ex­hibition have certainly tried to com­municate. “Indonesia’s beauty has been compared to an emerald chain wound around the equator – this has been expressed not only through art but also in music and literature. In our struggle through daily life so many of us seem to forget that beau­ty in nature and also in our culture. This is such a lovely country – and that is what we are trying to express through this exhibition,” exclaimed Agus Budiyanto, probably the most well-known of the artists who exhib­ited at the Bentara Budaya gallery.

As a member of the International Watercolor Society since 1998 Agus Budiyanto now sits on the Board of the International Water Colour Soci­ety and is the head of the Indonesian branch of the Society which has been in existence since 2014. The Interna­tional Watercolour Society (IWS) is the largest organization for watercolour artists to exchange ideas and display their abilities. Its headquarters are in the ancient city of Teos in Turkey on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. It has more than 80 branches world­wide and organizes festivals, contests as well as exhibitions. The themes are always peace, harmony, love and understanding. The Society helps its branches to develop strategies for promoting art and water colour in their own countries with an eye also towards keeping costs down. All year long the water colour societies of dif­ferent countries hold exhibitions to which any member from any country may submit paintings. For example, Canada will be holding a water colour exhibition from September 28th till October 27th 2018.

Atanur Dogan who is the president of the International Water Colouring Society, founded the society in 2012. He says, “Its mission is to promote and popularize water colour or water media in every part of the world. It has proven that art can bring peo­ple together despite differences in race, religion, culture and distance. Though our activities centre on wa­ter colour promotion, our mission of promoting brotherhood and peace is being accomplished too.”

Agus Budiyanto has been paint­ing with watercolors for nearly for­ty years and has won numerous awards for his art, including the Best Artist of South Jakarta award and Best Sketch award from the Jakar­ta Arts Council. He has had 17 solo exhibitions and participated in over 60 group exhibitions in Indonesia, Asia and Europe including a solo ex­hibition at the Indonesian National Gallery which received wide acclaim in 2010. The colors in his paintings have been described as wild and al­most glowing and the paintings them­selves as chaotic and yet controlled. They are intriguing to say the least. “There is something very special and unpredictable about watercolors that cannot be repeated,” Budiyanto ex­plained. “The amount of water used will very much influence the results in the painting and that is what makes this medium so exciting.”

His three part painting which is the central piece of the exhibition is entitled “Segara Biru Banda Neira” or “The Blue Banda Neira Sea”. The soft colours of the painting are pleasing to the eye while at the same time its intense sense of movement prevent it from being boring. The painting expresses his great anticipation for a trip that he is planning in October to the Banda Islands which are locat­ed in the Moluccas. “What looks like green leaves is in fact a map of the islands and around them I created my own interpretation of the swirling Banda Sea.”

Budiyanto will be going to the Banda Islands together with another art group known as the Indonesian Sketchers. Donald Saluling who is an art director with long experience in the graphic design industry and a member of the society says it is in fact “Urban Sketchers Indonesia” but simply referred to as “Indonesian Sketchers”. They have a membership of around five hundred artists in such places as Bandung, Jogjakarta, Me­nado, Samarinda and Palembang. “We do not have a branch in the Banda Islands,” explained Saluling, “but they have a society called Ban­da Sketch Walk and there is also the Maluku Sketch Walk. It was through them that we heard of Banda. We want to try to expose Banda to the world through our sketches via the internet.”

The Indonesian Sketchers at­tempt to capture a story or experience through their pictures. So, there is a journalistic side to their art. They do not do studies of objects. They share stories and experiences through di­rect sketches and may use any me­dium they want to create their paint­ings. Nevertheless, most members opt for ink or water colors for purely prac­tical reasons as these are the easiest to transport. “Life is short sketch it while you can” appears to be their creed

“The head of Indonesian Sketch­ers is Yanuar Ikhson and in 2013 we actually set up a foundation or “yayasan” for our society,” explained Saluling. “We don’t usually hold ex­hibitions as most of our work is in sketch books which are difficult to ex­hibit, although we are trying to work that out. Usually, we display our pictures through the internet. How­ever, in 2013 we had an exhibition at the Erasmus Huis as part of the two hundred year celebration of the Dutch monarchy. We painted Dutch heritage buildings from all over Indo­nesia as the subject of the exhibition.”

Meanwhile, to come back to wa­tercolors, what differentiates water colours from other mediums of paint­ing such as oil paintings is that in oil paintings the paint is suspended in oil usually linseed oil whereas in wa­tercolors or aquarelles the paint is suspended in a water-based solution. In China, Korea and Japan water­color painting is mostly with inks in monochrome black or browns called brush painting or scroll painting. India has also long had a watercol­or painting tradition. The names of famous Indonesian water colorists include Amir Yahya, Rusli and Jihan.

At the Bentara Budaya exhibition that mix of realism and dreaminess that water colours can portray pro­duced a variety of interesting exhibits. A painting by Geethi Bhatnagar was a harmonious melange of soft colours and mellow curving shapes providing a slow but fascinating movement to the picture. Bhatnagar, an Indian expatriate with both an educational as well as professional background in textiles has been studying Indo­nesian textiles at the Jakarta Textile Museum. Her paintings were inspired by both Indonesian natural geogra­phy as well as an antique Pekalon­gan batik that she saw at the Textile Museum. In her first painting entitled “Indigo Mood Ijen” the background of the painting depicts the blue flames of the Ijen crater with batik motifs such as the peacock. “My second painting “Indigo Mood Pekalongan” is a study of details of the batik itself and my final painting “Indigo Mood Rinjani follows the shape of the Rin­jani crater with the “sawat” or “garu­da wings” from the batik,” Bhatnagar explained.

Another eye-catching painting was “The Beauty from Ternate” by Indira Putri Diani It is a very detailed black, olive and yellow portrait of a species of flat-faced longhorns beetle. When asked why she had chosen this zoo­logical specimen as her subject, Indi­ra who is a legal intern with Soewito Suhardiman Eddymurthy Kardono but has enjoyed making illustrations since childhood disclosed, “I have al­ways had a phobia towards beetles but by studying and painting them I am slowly ridding myself of that pho­bia.”

Besides her membership in the In­donesian branch of the International Watercolor Society, Indira is also a member of the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists or IDSBA which is linked to other international botani­cal artists societies. The society was set up in November 2017. Its pres­ident, Andiriana Wisnu noted, “The trigger that helped set up the Society was the ‘Botanical Art Worldwide’ ex­hibition held by the American Society of Botanical Artists. Many of us want­ed to participate but the only way we would be able to do so was through an Indonesian society of botanical artists so the IDSBA was set created,”

Andiriana Wisnu explained that her background in architecture prob­ably influenced her interest in botan­ical art. In botanical illustrations the artist has to be very accurate. There are certain things that have to be drawn such as the stamens, the stig­ma, the sepals and so on. “It cannot just be a beautiful painting of a plant. That appeals to me. It is a combina­tion between science and art – just like architecture,” she commented.

The IDSBA has a close cooperation with the Bogor Botanical Gardens. Members are allowed to attend work­shops held by the Bogor Botanical Gardens about plants and the Soci­ety holds workshops at the Gardens where they help train members of staff in botanical illustrations. “This is why we received support for our first exhibition from the Bogor Botan­ical Gardens. It was entitled “A Diver­sity of Indonesian Flora”. The themes for national exhibitions are always only about plants that are native to the country of the society. So, we had to paint things like the nutmeg flower – which by the way, is the symbol of our society.”

It appears that in the last 10 years quite a number of new art societies with international links have been established in Indonesia. These so­cieties not only provide a great deal of enjoyment for their members but are also a place for artists to improve their skills and with the large number of Indonesians talented in the arts it promises more international recogni­tion for Indonesian artists, as well as Indonesia itself. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)