It is quite amazing to see a painter so tirelessly paint himself again and again. In every portrait there is a feeling that the painter is searching for something, some meaning, as if he was unfamiliar with the person he was painting.
- Umar Kayam
One of the most significant artists within the canon of 20th century Indonesian art is the expressionist painter Affandi. His rejection of the intellectualization of art drove his preference towards an expressionism that was derived from the soul and predicated on a humanist feeling for the world. Affandi marked the very key moments in his life as an artist with the most introspective subject possible - the self-portrait, in which he found the most fitting subject by which to observe the vicissitudes of human existence. Some of his earliest self-portraits dating to the 1940s are studious and methodical realist studies, capturing the picture of an earnest artist, whose visage spoke more of a certain youthful confidence and potential rather than the sagely and noble appearances of his later portraits.
Self-educated, and through serving as a model for an Italian artist in Bandung, Affandi learned the rudiments of painting by observing the rules of anatomical perspective and academic structures, eventually gaining a finely honed mastery in depicting shape and form. During his foundational years of the 1930s, Affandi relied strongly on the use of pastels, combining an intuitive finesse for naturalism with powerfully expressed spontaneity. This evolved into the characteristically bold strokes and three-dimensional impasto applied straight from the paint tube which define his later works. Squeezing paint directly onto the canvas seems to best suit Affandi, allowing him to have full artistic expression along with an ability to finish his work quickly. He not only departs from the use of the brush, but also makes use of his palms and fingers to apply paint directly onto canvas.
In the present self-portrait, Affandi renders an image of himself relatively advanced in age. Having matured in years and worldly experience, he portrays himself unflinchingly turning back and facing the viewer. The steady gaze he commands expresses the self-assuredness of the artist as sitter. Here is Affandi, the portrait sitter and the artist all in one, putting himself forward in a proud declaration of self-worth. Some of the best self-portraits works of Affandi such as this present lot are accompanied with images of the sun, a symbol the artist believed to best represent himself as a man, for the sun represented the natural source of his energy and wisdom. The symbol of the hands and feet represent the limbs that the artist painted with.
The artist's constant visitation of the theme of the self-portrait is not -- as some may commonly mistake -- a preoccupation with the self, but more a visual meditation of the physical world that he inhabits, and which he has seen change along with changes in his physical and psychological self. Affandi often compared his appearance with that of the wayang (shadow puppetry) figure, Sukrasana, who, though being a rather ugly protagonist in the world of wayang, has a kind heart and supernatural abilities which enable him to bring a heavenly garden to earth. In the present lot, we see a reconnection of the painter with his psychological self and the self-consciousness related to the genre of self-portraiture.