Wed, 14 Jun 2000

Artist Yuswantoro kisses money motif goodbye

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Yuswantoro Adi's critics and admirers will have to stop singing the ABBA hit that goes "Money, money, money ... always money" in mockery or in praise of his art featuring banknotes to represent greed and materialism.

Yus just bid farewell to money. He says he does not want to be nicknamed the "money copier" artist.

"I have to quit the style before the banknote becomes my trademark," he said when attending a recent art workshop for journalists in Yogyakarta.

What a daring decision. Banknotes and children together have, indeed, become his main theme. The theme catapulted him to stardom in 1998 when he won the ASEAN Arts Awards. Drawing children and banknotes on canvas has earned him fame, wealth and awards.

The artist who favors T-shirts, unfashionable Bermuda shorts and thongs is dead serious about dumping his money style. He saw journalists at the Indonesian-French Cultural Center carrying in two of his works, Tolong Jangan Bikin Bingung Monyet (Please Don't Confuse the Monkey, 2000) and Seratus Rupiah Saja (One Hundred Rupiah Only, Please, 1998).

The Monkey has no money element in it but the Rupiah has all the typical elements of his art style: child and banknote.

Tolong Jangan Bikin Bingung Monyet, features children and a dancing monkey at the center. A child holding a newspaper with a headline condemning the ruling elite looks up at the monkey, while a boy at the top left blows soap bubbles all over the place.

Like most of his works, the Monkey is a lampoon of the current situation in which propaganda spread by the powerful elite is order of the day. Euphoria that springs from the newfound freedom in which anybody is allowed to say anything, to the confusion of the common people.

Seratus Rupiah Saja features a sweet young girl playing with Coca Cola bottle tops thread on a string singing in the street for money -- a common sight in major cities ever since the economic crisis struck in 1997. A large proportion of the busy street is blocked off from view by a conspicuous Rp 100 banknote in the foreground.

Unlike posters, the message in Yus' paintings are conveyed subtly. Objects are presented in a realist way and thus beauty, proportion and color composition are still an important element.

The combination of children and banknotes (local or foreign) creates comical images of society today: the evils of materialism, a world that doesn't seem to turn without money, the merry world of innocent children.

Yus, who dropped out of Yogyakarta's Indonesian Arts Institute in 1991, is determined to prove to the world that his strength lies not only in the banknote but also in other ordinary elements.

He claimed: "I will not draw money anymore even though orders for paintings with the banknote theme are still coming in ... I'm fed up. Being stereotyped (as a money painter) is killing me."

The 34-year-old Semarang-born artist, however, will continue with his child icons. The artist considers children his best friends and an unending source of inspiration due to their pure minds, innocence and freedom.

He uses children in his every expression: joy, anger, sorrow and even political frustration. His artwork shows there is nothing absurd in using the images of children to convey political messages.

"To get an idea across, the children do not have to be beautiful. What counts is their expression," he said. He draws the children from photographs, making changes when necessary.

As a realist, Yus is a master of detail. He spent many years learning the art of drawing detail, such as the intricate bank notes. (pan)