Sun, 10 Oct 1999

Exhibition presents essence of abstract art

By Chandra Johan

JAKARTA (JP): The presence of abstract painting in Indonesia was once considered a "great sin". When nationalism was aroused in the 1950s and realism in art was suggested, a number of artists from Bandung, such as Achmad Sadali, Mochtar Apin and But Mochtar, suddenly deviated from social realism and collectivity. These artists, pioneering the abstract painting mode, were not considered to be nationalists and received sharp criticism from a number of artists and critics, such as Trisno Sumardjo, Basuki Resobowo and Misbach Tamrin.

"Bandung was dedicated to the Western laboratory," wrote Trisno Sumardjo in Siasat in 1954. "We are grasped tightly by constructive arrangements of lines, colors and space," said Basuki Resobowo in 1957 in the same media. Ten years after that, Misbach Tamrin was despised with his criticism. "Abstract art runs away to an obscurantism of forms, where the volume or theme dissolves and is minced by color composition and fragments. So what was left was a perforated framework without giving a clear imagination about the realities in life," he wrote in an article titled About the idea of Realism, published in Gelora on April 12, 1963.

Not only was abstract painting accused of bringing in "cultural sin", but it was also considered useless to people's struggle. If art should be dedicated to people, said supporters of social realism, it should have themes understandable to the grassroots people. And people would only understand the forms in paintings when they are already known in real life, or when it is already pictured in their thoughts, Misbach Tamrin said.

Abstract painting became a "sin" when it was opposed to people's nationalism and social realism. Critics said the presence of this style could be considered as part of a chain which started with the round table conference, that is, the beginning of compromise with capitalism and imperialism followed by cultural compromise.

So abstractionism was considered to be part of an imperialistic cultural aggression form. Finally, this problem ended up with the problem of the East-West, which was continuously debated until the end of the 1970s and did not find a clear and thorough conclusion.

Yet the sharp and hard criticism did not discourage Achmad Sadali, Oesman Effendi, Fajar Sidik, But Mochtar, Mochtar Apin and other artists to develop this art genre.

The growth of abstract painting could be said to be personal and always appears in every momentum and area. This seems to be the reason why the Java Gallery in South Jakarta presents a great number of Indonesian abstract painting exhibitions. Titled The road of Abstract Painting Art in Indonesia, this gallery looks ambitious in depicting the development of abstract paintings by showing the works of 26 artists, from Achmad Sadali, Fadjar Sidik, Nashar, Salim (Paris), Sunarya, Umi Dahlan and Edi Sunaryo, to those of younger painters like Freddy Sofian, Heyi Ma'mun, Tulus Warsito, Teguh Ostentrik, Syahrizal Pahlevi, Irawan Karseno, Pridani Akbar, Yulianto Liestiono, Nyoman Erawan, Nurzulis Koto, I Wayan Sika, I Made Sumadiyasa, IGP Sugandi, Heru Ardiansyah, Herly Gaya, Hansen, Hanafi, Gugun Gunawan and Febri Antoni. This effort should be valued appropriately, although it does not properly represent abstract painters in Indonesia.

We can see several tendencies; for instance, the tendency to present the "essence" of nature (abstract means "nucleus" and "to generalize") and the order of form, from Achmad Sadali, Umi Dahlan, Heyi Ma'mun, Hansen, Sunaryo, Freddy Sofyan, IGP Sugandi and Febri Antoni, where each of their paintings demand a "seeing culture" to precisely and closely trace the visual relations with the experience of seeing nature. It seems that texture keeps an important role in most of this genre, and the "prophet" here is Achmad Sadali. All the space on Sadali's painting is a rich visualization which keeps us observing calmly and precisely or quietly musing.

Another tendency is the unison between geometric and organic or biomorphic forms, such as from Fadjar Sidik and Salim, a combination between order and disorder forms, from Tulus Warsito, Teguh Ostentrik, Nyoman Erawan, Heru Ardiansyah, Hanafi and Yulianto, and the tendency of expressive forms, from Irawan Karseno, I Made Sumadiyasa and Syahrizal Pahlevi.

These tendencies do not mean to show special characteristics in each work, because each work of a painter, who owns an almost similar tendency, in fact, owns unique individual characteristics.

Furthermore, they in fact do not show any changes or significant development, such as in Heyi Ma'mun's or Umi Dahlan's works. However, Heyi's, as well as Umi's, has specific characteristics which cannot be compared with Sadali's works. Each artists' work owns a generic style, generally similar to others, and a specific style specifically different from others. Each general characteristic from this abstract fine arts show is a phenomenon about art ideology by its creator.

The tendency toward an order form, that is, visual comfort with gestalt principles, or formalism, which grew and developed from the 1960s or 1970s, shows a belief in the formal laws of two dimensional space and its elements. Generally, they avoid "story" and are more interested in the exploration of aesthetic elements like texture, line and fused colors, which are repeated, made variable, or opposed to each other. It is hard to deny that this tendency was in the beginning developed by artists who were educated at art academies. However, in the younger generation, Irawan Karseno, Syahrizal Pahlevi, Hanafi, I Made Sumadiyasa, Herly Gaya, Teguh Ostentrik and Yulianto see the exploration of aesthetic elements does not look to be more important than personal expressions as they believe in an emotional impulse. Works of Irawan, Syahrizal and Sumadiyasa, for example, show chaotic characteristics which appear from tense emotions.

The exhibition, which opened on Oct. 8, runs until Oct. 24.