Alongside S. Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan, Affandi is considered one of three key modern artists in Indonesian modern art history. Essentially self-taught, Affandi began painting steeped in Indonesian arts and culture. He developed an interest in painting early in his life. At the tender age of seven, he was reputed to be able to draw from memory the whole pantheon of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) figures that remains till today an integral part of Indonesian visual culture. His foray into painting was via commercial means, having begun as a billboard painter amongst other odd jobs, but he was always cognizant of the artistic spirit and independence within him and sought to paint life as he saw and felt it.
In his early career, his pictures of friends, relatives and close family members documented the daily life of a fledging Indonesian republic in transition from colony to nation. When Affandi ventured into painting, the common man on the streets was hardly the conventional subject matter for paintings, especially as Indonesia was still under colonial Dutch East Indies rule. After receiving a scholarship to study at the famed Santiniketan Art School in India, Affandi was able to paint outside of Indonesia during a formative period of his career, consequently being greatly exposed to the world of art and painting beyond what he could have seen in Indonesia and India. His travels to Europe in the first half of the 1950s allowed him to see the works of key European artists personally. He was in awe of Vincent van Gogh's paintings, because they bore a clear expressionistic tendency and were created in a broadly similar style as his own works, but he was also relieved to note that there was clear distinct differences in the way both he and Van Gogh painted.
Emotion is the essential element in the artist's work, as Astri Wright wrote - 'Affandi's style has been called expressionistic but to him his works were more true to the subject than any degree of photorealisim could have been - an honesty which had more to do with emotional experience than with intellectual analysis. As he said in the 1992 film by Yasir Marzuki, Hungry to Paint, Affandi did not see himself as a clever man, 'not like Picasso'. He was more like van Gogh - a man of strong emotion, which in turn gave rise to works of art, the stylistic similarity between himself and van Gogh that people always point to was a matter of emotional affinity. In all of Affandi's work, including his self-portraits, his aim was to capture the very essence of the life-force which suffuses the universe.
And a life-force he did capture, as one could see from the paint work, the swirling of arms and the animated dripping of paint. In this aspect, it is not unlike the gestural work of American abstractexpressionist Jackson Pollock. Yet the work of Affandi is unique in its own even though he shares both emotional and technical affinity with the giants of Western art movements, a uniqueness that is deeply rooted in the artist's own perception of identity, culture and art.
Fiercely expressionistic, Affandi rendered the present lot, Barong Dance, in pure, unmixed colours that do not transcribe natural appearances, but rather suggest the painter's emotions and sensations before nature. Although he distinctly delineated his subjects in forms and shapes so that his sitters are always decipherable, however the actual painting technique which involves the "squeezing and smearing paint from the tubes on to the canvas, working it with his fingers, palms, wrists, and the back of his hands " inevitably rendered his subjects spontaneous and raw, pulsing with a life of its own, hence making every work of Affandi a transposition that is almost the passionate equivalent of a sensation received.
Barong Dance is one of the most sacred dances of Balinese culture, narrating the mythological struggle between good and evil. In the mythology, Rangda is the mother of Erlangga, the famed 10th century Balinese king, who was condemned by Erlangga's father for practising black magic. After becoming a widow, she summoned evil spirits in the jungle to pursue Erlangga. In the subsequent fights, she and her black magic troops overwhelmed Erlangga greatly, forcing Erlangga to seek assistance from Barong. An epic struggle ensued, and in the end, Barong and Erlangga's troops win against Rangda and the demons. The Barong dance stands out as a subject, where myth and history is blended into one reality, enacted and reinforced each time it is played out.
Affandi depicted the subject of Barong Dance a few times in his long painting career. But as a painter driven by his emotions and the sensations he derived from witnessing the performance, Affandi portrayed the Barong differently each time he painted one. In the present lot, Affandi paid especial attention to the countenance of the Barong, rendering it in all its details with his trademark strokes of paint directly applied from the paint tube. The eyes, mouth and bared teeth of the Barong are etched out distinctly, with a remarkable layer of depth, bearing a near sculptural quality. The mane of the Barong spreads out in swirls of orange, underscoring a dramatic moment in Barong Dance.
Affandi sought to capture the energy of the dance, and was particular across his Barong pictures to ensure that the sense of dynamism and narrative development in the dance could be reflected in his painting. He worked with a expressionistic urge but managed at the same time to capture the anatomy of his Barong with breathtaking precision, reflected in the natural curvature down the length of the Barong's back, before curling up stiffly at the rear. An explosion of colours is reflected in the cacophonous paint work on top of the Barong's body, while its underside, rendered in dense swathes of black oil paint, provides the visual foil for the overlying colours to emerge even more.
Acquired by the present owner from a private collector, who had in turn acquired the work directly from the artist, the present lot has been displayed in the hybrid Javanese-Balinese style private museum of the owner for more than a decade, along with the works of other Indonesian modern painters. In an uncanny way, the aesthetics of the museum fits perfectly with Affandi's Barong Dance, reflecting the curiosity and productive fascination that Affandi, born and raised in an essentially Javanese culture, had with Bali and the wealth of painting subjects it offered him. The present owner had flanked a pair of boat prows from the island of Madura to either side of Barong Dance. Directly below them are a pair of Solo door figurines. The combination of art and ethnography, visual and material culture, high art and tribal artefacts, marrying form, function and aesthetic beauty has been the key pursuit of the collector whose collecting taste is highly personal and informed by unwavering visual acumen.