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Layers with More Circles

Layers with More Circles
signed and dated ‘Christine 11’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
170 x 200 cm. (67 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2011
Private Collection
Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2013, lot 39
Acquired at the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Considered one of the most prominent female contemporary artists to emerge from Indonesia, Christine Ay Tjoe is known for her powerful renditions of abstracted arrangements and structures that explore the relationship between colour, forms and space with delicate undertones of depth that signal a deeper psychological meaning. It is thus unsurprising that Ay Tjoe is set apart from her contemporaries, and Layers with More Circles demonstrates this perfectly.

An iconic work that is characterized by her early forays into pure abstraction, Layers with More Circles is an unapologetically electrifying work that reverberates with a controlled but chaotic energy. Works of this period are a dynamic progression from Ay Tjoe’s earlier works such as 3->2 #05 that were considered more cathartic gestures, which straddled a fine line between figuration and abstraction. Although Ay Tjoe had already started to experiment with expressionistic fields of colour the year before, it was only in 2011 that she developed a more refined and confident artistic vernacular that allows meaning to be conveyed entirely through layered and sumptuous gestures, as demonstrated by the immediate and spontaneous energy maintained by the seemingly endless and fluid superimposition of colour and form in Layers with More Circles . For Ay Tjoe, the technique of layering soft washes of paint, combined with hard lines and texture left by bars of oil paint scribbled across the canvas is central to her ability to achieve the delicate layers of expressive shapes that vary from light scrawls to intensely energetic scribbles, and she manipulates oil paint as if it were pencil or ink; “It doesn’t matter what the medium is, as long as the process is drawing. I will always treat every medium as paper and pencil.”

Ay Tjoe’s ability to layer forms and colour planes in dramatic abstraction stems from her earlier studies in the graphic arts at the Faculty of Visual Art and Design at the Institute Technology of Bandung, which exposed her to a variety of specialized mediums such as etching and intaglio drypoint printing. Her extensive experimentation with the latter enabled her to exploit the expressive potential of the line in her subsequent works. Her allusions to belief, highly graphic style of working, and love for the symbolic power connoted by the colour red makes it impossible not to compare her abstract works to that of Cecily Brown’s The Pyjama Game who similarly created vigorously expressive works filled with sumptuous collisions of colours, some of them dominated by shades of vermillion.

However, thematically and visually, Ay Tjoe’s works are more delicate and fragile, focusing on the human condition and ideas of philosophy and spirituality, revealing an inner ecosystem full of intimate thoughts filled with melancholy, struggle, pain and happiness. Ay Tjoe’s use of red has become iconic in her body of work, the visceral and enigmatic colour a symbol of powerful emotions such as passion, violence, rage, but always denoting a central balance between mind, body and soul. In Layers with More Circles, Ay Tjoe very eloquently employs the use of black and white in her background to create a sense of tension between contrasting concepts such as light and dark, presence and absence, while simultaneously disrupting and dramatizing the red tones giving them a lyrical fluidity. “By using minimal colours ,” she states, “I can be more intimate with the object I am trying to highlight.” The use of black is particularly poignant, emphasising the shapes of the petal-like forms, while visually containing them and concentrating the energy of the marks and lines that almost seem to resist any sense of formal structure and threaten to break out of the canvas, within a single colour field. For Ay Tjoe, “Layers are like a container to keep all things that can be asserted to the unknown future. I place a flexible ‘rule’ in the shape of a circle, because the principles in which life is built upon will continuously grow and can be created personally, and I deem that to be an important activity…”

Being confronted with Layers with More Circles, one cannot help but be moved by the emotional depth and rawness produced by the magnificently animated textures and colours that ebb and flow across the canvas. Indeed in describing her work, Ay Tjoe says “So there are the darker layers, which sometimes overlap, and are sometimes hidden. You can see in the depth of the work there are these layers which are seen and unseen. It’s how I see people merge in society; you see people and they look lovely but there are layers hidden underneath.” It is in this way that the present lot perfectly embodies the strength of Ay Tjoe’s ability to poetically encapsulate the universal nature of the human condition within a single visual plane and reconfirms her status as one of Indonesia’s foremost contemporary artists.

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