I Nyoman Masriadi is one of Southeast Asia's leading contemporary painter of the 1970s generation, with an oeuvre firmly centred around muscular dark-skinned protagonists in their supermacho worlds. Born on the island of Bali in Indonesia, Masriadi studied painting in the 1990s at the Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI) in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. He refused to graduate from art school, knowing that teachers would seek favors from him in the form of his paintings to permit him to graduate. Some of his earliest works having left art college drew visual references from traditional Balinese art and cubist treatment of the body with its simultaenous perspective and fragmentation.
By 2000, Masriadi had discovered the immense potential of the colour black: as a symbolic colour of strength and depth, and as a colour in which tonal nuances could be brought out. Alongside the discovery of black which he terms his 'last weapon' as a painter, Masriadi also began to find pleasure in painting bodybuilders, sportsmen and muscular figures with clearly enunciated muscular parts in situations where power, dominance, competition and rivalry are brought to the surface and revealed. His strength as a contemporary painter is in his ability to create unique and compelling open-ended visual narratives such as Bersiap (Getting Ready).
Having an obsessive complusion towards painting and video-gaming, Masriadi represents the contemporary artworld's equivalent of a hermetic artist. Socially awkward and withdrawn into his daily routine involving painting and going to the gaming arcade, he paid little regard to the career concerns of a contemporary artist, and never courted curators, critics and collectors. His first solo exhibition was a mid-career retrospective in 2008 at the Singapore Art Museum, which holds the Southeast Asian region's leading contemporary art collection. The exhibition was held to critical acclaim, but also raised eyebrows of purists because prices for Masriadi's paintings between the years 2006-2008 rose dramatically, led by top-drawer paintings brought to market at auctions in Hong Kong.
For Masriadi, the difference between a friend and a foe is invariably clear. He adopts the vantage point of a slight outsider to the Indonesian artworld, observing patterns and instances of power relations between different players such as gallerists, artists and collectors. Some of the most powerful works he has produced have been critiques of gallerists and fellow artists, delivered as visual parables. More ambiguous, perhaps oscillating between desire and repulsion, are his pictures which comment on the vulgar display of material wealth and power. As a video gamer, it is not surprising that the highly charged formal and symbolic compositions in his works draw from the imagination and aspirations often revealed in the work of video gaming creators.
Bersiap (Getting Ready) is one such work describing the tug-of-war between desire and fear. Perched on a diving platform aching under his massive body, Masriadi's ebony black-skinned figure stands between danger and safety, bravery and trepidation. What is revealed is a certain human vulnerability beneath his hi-gloss perfectly sculpted veneer of strength and athleticism. The painter fits on his muscular protagonist a pair of ridiculous bright red flower-patterned thongs, effectively emasculating him and emphasizing the contradiction present in the painting. In the pool, near the diver's hands, are swiftly rendered images of a sinister shark's fin, the dangerously open jaws of a ferocious fish, and a welcoming round float. The pool is a welcoming respite in the sun but danger lurks. Does he dive or does he not? Is he ready?