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The Highest Player 02

The Highest Player 02
signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘ay tjoe Christine the Highest Player 02 170 x 200 cm oil bar on canvas 2016’ (on the reverse)
oil bar on canvas
170 x 200 cm. (66? 7⁄8 x 78?3/4 in.)
Painted in 2016
White Cube, London
Private Collection, Asia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, White Cube, Inside the White Cube, 13 July – 11 September 2016.

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

As one of the most prominent female Southeast Asian contemporary artist, Christine Ay Tjoe’s abstract expression paintings articulates the intense aspects of human experience. Violent, striking, and powerfully complex, the Indonesian painter offers captivating renditions of abstracted structures with delicate undertones of spiritual and philosophical depth and The Highest Player II demonstrates this perfectly.

The Highest Player II was one of 10 paintings exhibited at her UK solo debut show with White Cube, Bermondsey, in 2016. As the first ever Southeast Asian artist to be exhibited with the gallery, Ay Tjoe draws from Indonesia’s colonial and dictatorial past in her artistic creation. Her show offers a visual commentary on modern social-political climate — exploring how people’s desire, and power evolve under the commercialized, hyper-urban environment.

“What would people do if they were invisible? What power would they have” are questions Ay Tjoe ponders in The Highest Player II . Ay Tjoe composes her paintings in complex, interwoven layers to reflect on how figures of authority conceal their power as they intermingle their presence into the social system. Masked under clouds of earthy tones, the obscure hints of sienna and cyan are visual analogy for such hidden motives. The artist aptly refers to these layers as the “unseen” explaining, “It’s how I see people merge in society; you see people, and they look lovely, but there are layers hidden underneath.” The painting’s intricate network of lines and forms exemplify the complexities of human nature and offers a captivating visual narrative on the duality of man.

What sets Ay Tjoe apart from her contemporaries is how the artists draws from personal psychological experiences in her social critiques — incorporating higher spiritual and philosophical elements in her observations on the human condition. Ay Tjoe works in almost a state of trance in which she lets fervor dictate the artistic direction. Channelling her emotions through each stroke, the dynamic created between line, space and colour are artistic encapsulations of her instantaneous psychological experience. Her work is not only offers a discussion on class, status and power, but also presents a snapshot of her internal dialogue. This is a challenging process that demands emotional rawness and requires an intense level of cerebral focus yet Ay Tjoe effortlessly executes this in her series. The allure of her art lies in this charged yet delicate balance between control and spontaneity.

The Highest Player II marks a significant turning point in the artist’s oeuvre as it departures from her earlier series of works. Here Ay Tjoe has transitioned from the predominantly red canvas to featuring seething mass of ominous dark tones. Unlike her previous paintings that were usually dominated by dense hues, in this piece, the spectral grimy white appears to take on the center stage. Seemingly evanescent but riveting, with rich undertones, the cloud of white paint takes on an entity of its own that adds to the enigmatic sense of chaos — creating a moment that is amorphous in definition but clear in its power and magnitude. Enveloping the artist’s emotional rawness, the intricate yet clashingly brute visual components intermingle with one another but at times appear disconnected. Though much of the work is left with empty areas of the primed canvas exposed, this painting is anything but sparse with its frenetic energy. Instead, the vacancy heightens every color and stroke that pulsates throughout the work, as she explains “strong, soft, thin or fragile lines which I converse with will speak a lot louder and feel more alive when placed inside an empty room.”

This painting not only marks a monumental period in the artist’s career but also a key milestone for Southeast Asian artist. Standing before one of Christine Ay Tjoe’s works is like glimpsing the tumultuous mess of the human psyche – chaotic and frenzied yet coherent. The present lot embodies the strength of Ay Tjoe’s ability to poetically encapsulate the universal nature of the human condition and reconfirms her status as one of Indonesia’s foremost contemporary artists.

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