Encountering Rudi Mantofani's Sebatas abu-abu (The limits of grey) is an experience baffling and rewarding simultaneously. A picturesque tropical landscape occupies the bottom half of the canvas; in the middle ground stretches the view of a verdant cultivated valley plain, surrounded on all sides by lush natural vegetation and distant mountains. It is a scene of plenitude and abundance, where nature exists in perfect harmony with human cultivation. The image speaks evocatively of ideal transcendental beauty. But even as one is drawn to such a vision, one's experience is deterred by the presence of a solid grey block that forms the top half of the painting, obliterating the wholesome completeness of the picturesque landscape.
The rude suspension of vision we encounter in the work is a pictorial device employed by the artist in a number of works produced in and around the mid-2000s. Mantofani has strategically chosen grey - the colour that straddles in between, the colour furthest from clarity by virtue of its position in the middle of the scale. Grey, as pictorial device, takes on metaphorical quality, coming to symbolise all that is hazy, unseen and unclear, as opposed to the clarity by which we observe the world in the bottom half of the painting. Greyness restricts and halts our vision, stopping us in our tracks. Sebatas abu-abu, translated as The limits of grey emerges from the concept of limits central to the artist's philosophy of the everyday.
If the world in the bottom half of the painting visualises humanity with all its unbound potential for perfection, the grey block that weights so conspicuously at the top half is Mantofani's visual reminder, perhaps not untimely, that such ideals and endeavours have to be matched by a capacity for self-control, restrain and limit lest they take over our capacity to act reasonable and morally.
In his art practice, Mantofani ponders deeply over the philosophy of everyday life - advocating virtues such as patience, moderation and the circumscription of excesses. He looks far and searches deep, trawling for visual metaphors and devising original pictorial schemas to present distilled lessons in life's conduct and thoughts. In the process, simple truths emerge from wondrous visions.