Considered within his lifetime to be the foremost artist of the expressionist movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Affandi was praised both within and outside of Indonesia. The renowned art critic Herbert Read had hailed Affandi as a painter who had succeeded in 'developing a new course of Expressionism'. New expressionism is indeed a description that is applicable to an understanding of Affandi's works in subsequent years, gaining for him a place of importance in world art history of the mid-20th Century. His works prior to 1970s were often feverishly colourful, and showed the artist's love of vitality and movement, often overwhelming the subject of his paintings with the dynamism of his brush strokes. His art is often described as a direct expression of his feelings, and certainly, his representation of nature and his surroundings are evocative and highly animated.
The works of his initial years in the second half of the 1930s right up to the early 1950s were mainly focused upon portraiture and it was in portraiture that Affandi really first developed as an artist, and more of a naturalist before evolving his style to expressionism through the increasing vigour and expressiveness of his brushwork. Portraits of his friends, relatives and close family members were the domineering subjects of his artworks in his early career, which focused mainly on the day-to-day life of an Indonesia that was still under Dutch colonial rule.
Pictures such as Maryati and Kartika (Fig. 1) which reveal so much the psychology and relationship between the sitters in the painting illustrate Affandi's oft-forgotten side as a humanist. His expressionism has been described as 'wild and demonic' and perhaps overemphasised to the neglect of other aspects of his persona as artist. When Affandi was given a scholarship to study at the prestigious Santiniketan Art School in India, he was exposed to environments and scenes outside of Indonesia and subsequently, his trips to Europe in the early 1950s allowed him to further widen his horizons and see paintings by European expressionist masters he admired. Art critic Astri Wright has commented: 'Affandi's style
has been called expressionistic but to him his works were more true to the subject than any degree of photorealism could have been.'
Capturing the Signs of the Natural Forces
The success of Affandi's figurative works in depicting his subject's personality and emotions lies in his artistic concern to 'want to capture the signs of the natural forces.' Very much the key tenet in his works, his portraiture and his selfportraits are intricately linked. Affandi has famously said: 'When I paint, I always want to become one with the object I paint. I lose myself, and then there is a feeling as if I'm going to fight against something.'
Painted during the peak of his career in the 1970s, Kolektor dari Bali(Lot 21) is an outstanding and extremely rare example of his portraiture where Affandi's pictorial interest goes beyond merely the figure to incorporate a visible aspect of the persona of his sitter. The number of documented Affandi portraits is few and far between, and almost definitely lesser than the number of self-portraits he produced in his lifetime.Yet amongst these portraitures, there is a distinct link - the vital presence of the artist seen through his paintings.
Depicted to the right of the painted Balinese collector are two Barong paintings of Affandi, each one dated to 1973 too. Here, the relationship between life, art and collecting is reinforced. The Balinese collector comes into possession of two Barong paintings of Affandi in his patronage of the artist. In so doing, he reinforces the supernatural and cultural life of Bali which bestows upon the Barong, a lion-like character in the mythology of Bali, the supreme place of importance as the king of the spirits, the host of good and the enemy of Rangda, the demon queen. Between the Barong as inspiration and the patronage of the collector as sustenance is the artist, placed between these two vital sources.
In other paintings of Affandi, notably the early work My Room in Ubud, Bali (Fig. 2), Affandi reinforces his profession as artist, choosing to re-paint some of his most striking early paintings hung on the walls of his painted Ubud room. Affandi never leaves his paintings out of the equation, each one of them reinforcing the presence of the artist, and an ingenious mode of allowing his collectors to see and be reminded of their relationship with Affandi himself through his paintings.
Painting in the naturalist style, Affandi's eye for detail and skill in depicting the human body is second to none, and this is nowhere as perfectly illustrated as in Kolektor dari Bali. Affandi depicts his Balinese collector dressed in the complete Balinese male ceremonial attire, with an expressive udeng (head cloth) and a splendidly detailed batik sarong. In his demeanour and dress, the collector befits the paintings. The relationship between the artist and the collector is not a simple matter of buying and selling - rather, it involves a significant exchange of faith, with the artist transferring the responsibility of his work to his collector, who will then safekeep the painting for posterity.
One recalls the iconic work of Flemish Baroque painter Cornelis de Baellieur, Interior of a Collector's Gallery and Objets d'Art (Fig. 3)- an evocation of a fashionable seventeenth-Century collector with representations of the artist's works owned by the said collector. In this particular painting, the collector is a proud custodian of his paintings and proudly shows them off to his guests. Slightly different in Affandi's painting is how he depicts the appreciation of his paintings not as a social event, but just the communion between collector and pictures. Doubtlessly for Affandi, this is the essential relationship that is most precious to the artist himself.