I Nyoman Masriadi has won international acclaim as a leading Southeast Asian contemporary artist of this generation. Born in Bali and currently based in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, the artist employs satirical visual imagery and poignant narratives to explicate the vagaries of socio-political life in our present environment. His works are characteristic for featuring heavily muscled, dark-skinned figures, reminiscent of the artist's influence from elements of contemporary visual culture, such as athletes, comic books and video games. Richly explicit, Masriadi's iconic paintings deliver an immediate visual impact demanded by a consumerist and media-savvy audience, and go on to reveal layer after layer of profound messages.
A nondescript white brick background suspends the figure in the middle of the painting as he hangs from a rope and harness. Interspersed between the bricks are tiny symbols and objects: a communication tower, a cartoon pig, a cupcake, a butterfly and a singular eye amongst others, are drawn in simple lines. While directly socio-political satire is less present in this piece, the tiny images on the wall recreate the whimsical atmosphere of video game culture, which is another element consistently present alongside a sense of playfulness, which is central to Masriadi’s work. The scribbles augment the painted image of the man, suggesting multiple thoughts perhaps “weighing” on the figure’s mind, while inserting various possibilities of narratives borne from the viewer’s associations.
Two phrases of written text sit on the background: one says “Star Bintang” underneath a sketch of a five pointed star, and the other at the bottom right of the painting says “Berat Kencang.” Star Bintang translates directly to “Star Star,” and when written underneath a graphical representation of a star, creates a tripling of the sound and imagery, perhaps alluding to the status of the figure, an archetype we have seen often in pop culture as a superhero spy. Berat Kencang translates to “Weight Tight,” or to “Weigh Fast,” emphasising the gravity visibly acting on the figure given his size and musculature.
The figure, though suspended, remains solid and anchored, and as the title suggests, his own weight keeps him stable as he gazes through military-style binoculars with a stern look of concentration on his face. The line he hangs from is completely straight, and the shape and alignment of his body echoes this straight line to reinforce the sense of strength and stability in the picture. It almost seems like the figure is holding himself up with his body strength, but we are reminded that it is gravity that keeps him grounded and able to perform his espionage. The man is dressed simply for such a dangerous mission: he wears blue denim shorts, a simple black and red harness and a pair of striking black and yellow running shoes. The items and clothing on the figure mimic those of western origin, consistent with the comment on import consumerism that Masriadi is known to insert into his work. Masriadi’s fascination with an almost grotesque, steroidal masculine body covered in exaggerated sinews and muscles is a common and iconic theme in his work. It is interesting that in this painting, the figure also sports bandages on his fingers. He does not appear injured, but these elements emphasise the physicality of his mission, and recall the action genre of video game heroes that inspires Masriadi’s masculine figures.
With the binoculars, Masriadi denies us the intense and direct gaze of his iconic figure in his other paintings. Instead of confronting the viewer this time, the figure gazes into an instrument that amplifies his visual power, allowing him to see something far away, behind us. By blocking the gaze of the figure from the viewer, Masriadi encourages us to observe and admire the figure uninhibited and unchallenged. The tough expression of the man, alongside his open, confident posture present to us a figure who is unafraid and willing to be marveled at.
Art historian T. K. Sabapathy observes that the line drawings and sketches in Masraidi’s paintings, not only challenge the sovereignty of paint as a medium over the humble sketch, but recall the process of live figure drawing, where crude approximations are made in order to allow the material figure to emerge on the page in a process of trial and error. In line with the process of creating a figure, the artist mentions his aim of producing a “classic” figure, and so his hyperbolic, steroidal figures are a result of his addition of improving the human form. This visual treatment has also been employed by classical artist Michelangelo, whose sculpture of David feature the upper parts of the larger-than-life figure as unnaturally large to match the feet, therefore appearing in uniform proportions from the eye line of the viewer on the ground, looking up. Similarly, the sculptural quality of Masriadi’s black skinned figures reveal the artist’s fascination with the human form. Masriadi has said that he prefers black in painting, as it can be seen more clearly, thus more effectively emphasising his imposing forms. His iconic figures boast features he believes men should have in representation, while weaving in the images of masculine, muscular athletes and superheroes.