Seven Pillars of Abstraction

Seven Pillars of Abstraction
signed and dated 'umi d. 96' (lower right)
mixed media on canvas
90 x 120 cm. (35 3/8 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1996
Private Collection, Indonesia

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay


The overture to the Indonesian art movement can be traced back to as early as the 19th century, spearheaded by Raden Saleh with a focus on romanticism and Western style classical painting after his studies in Europe. During Indonesia's tumultuous war of Independence, artists from both major school of thought in Yogyakarta and Bandung, challenged the idea of romanticizing Indonesia and started to create a new vocabulary of art-making that was true to the spirit of the nation and its people.

Distinctive and differing from works produced by artists from Central Java, the underlying characteristics of the art movement in the 1950s in Bandung was heavily influenced with the western credo introduced by expatriate lecturers, with Ries Mulder as an important figure to the growth of the genre. This artistic approach was collectively known as "The Bandung School", and was developing in parallel with the full exploration of Abstract Expressionism in America, where artists such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffman and Clyfford Still gained rapid prominence. This approach to fields of colour and abstract forms continued to be profoundly developed by artists residing in Bandung in the 1970s. Many of the works from this school of thought showcased interesting approaches in depicting the artists' sensibility through their works, and favoured the creation of a new form of abstract language, which incorporated their own sense of cultural identity and philosophies. These were often represented by the choice of bold colour palettes, paired with impasto and layers, creating a tactile quality to each piece created, providing an intriguing multisensory experience to the viewers.

Each element was combined and juxtaposed, creating harmony within the picture plane. Such quality is highly visible especially in the works of Mochtar Apin, (Lot 496, 497, 500) and Popo Iskandar's Aquarium (Lot 498) presented here. Staying true to his ideals and beliefs, religious elements are also often found in works by Ahmad Sadali. Often imbuing his works with additional references of his personal belief, Sadali utilized his works as a documentation of his personal journey, both as an ordinary human being and as an artist. With his paintings, Sadali analyses his relationship with God, human and Nature, the trinity of life, offering a deeper meaning behind the symmetrical organic composition presented in his canvases.

This notable artistry became an inspiration to many of Sadali's students during his tenure at Institut Teknik Bandung (Bandung Institute of Technology), one of which was Umi Dachlan. In her works, Dachlan continuously explored the religious aspect, relating it towards the imperfections in life. Through this concept, Dachlan's works offer a humbling yet contemplative experience as a mere human being measured against divinity, which highlights and magnifies God's power and might through her works. While others focused on the exploratory works of colours, shapes and composition, Srihadi Soedarsono came onto the scene with a strong influence of his Javanese roots reflected in his concept and choice of colours. For Soedarsono, painting was a vessel of personal expression and contemplation towards his subject matter. With his vigorous brush work, Soedarsono captures the energy and movement of his subject, pairing them with bold choices of colours, breathing life, vitality and sense of movement and flow into his works. Artists from the Bandung school of thought saw their art as part of the bigger 'art scene of the world', and which is liberating and universal in characteristics, yet celebrates Indonesian traditional values and philosophy in their works. This difference is apparent and sets the Bandung artists apart from Yogyakarta artists, who anchored their art practice limited towards the current local environment.

When this movement started to emerge, and take precedence in the 1950s, these artists were then criticised for not fully reflecting the nationalistic sentiments and values which were sweeping the country, especially in its quest for independence from the Dutch. However these talented artists persevered in their dedication to their craft, showcasing their purest form of expression through their art. This criticism however only spurred them to further enhance their creative approaches and process, achieving and making a significant impact as a new and exciting Indonesian art form. Juxtaposing the best of the East and West, this movement become a notable imprint in Indonesia's art sphere as their very own brand of abstraction.

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