One of the most iconic early works of Indonesian painter I Nyoman Masriadi, the present lot, Marathon, bears the distinct figurative iconography of the artist and a monumental quality that marks it as a centerpiece in the artist's oeuvre. Depicting five male runners trailing in the dust of a speedier female runner, the work is a superlative illustration of the painter's fascination with the world of sports in which he continues to draw thematic interest and subject matters.
Painted in 1999 when the artist was a mere twenty-six years old, Marathon is arguably the most accomplished forerunning work to all of the other paintings of the artist depicting sportsmen and women engaged in various activities in the sporting arena. Till today, the world of sports continues to fascinate the painter, providing a climate where image and display is heightened to significance. "In competitive contests, the notions of play and game are taken seriously, distilled to heightened, purified realms. In these states, one is reminded of the interconnectedness of play, ritual and drama. Competing players no longer hold on to their individual identities but become players in communal rituals, reaffirming common values of humanity such as competition, human endeavour and endurance."(Seng Yu Jin and Wang Zineng, Masriadi: Black Is My Last Weapon, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2008, p. 86).
It is in the world of sports that Masriadi re-enacts and weaves allegories of everyday life. Like the other of his paintings offered in this season's sale, Marathon was occasioned by very specific and heartfelt episodes that had taken place in the artist's life. From the experiences of daily life, Masriadi then derived the ideas and pictorial narratives in his paintings, distilling the essence of the experience and translating it into a visual form that relives this essence but in a thoroughly different visual world. The artist percolates the everyday prosaic, conjuring universalisms from the particularities of his personal and family life.
Understood this way, the self-explanatory and straightforward imagery of runners captured in a moment in time during a marathon race takes on profoundness beyond its own apparent measure. If Marathon is a visual allegory of life, what can we make of it? Might this picture speak of reversals and significant moments in power relations on a global level in all aspects of life from the rise of the feminist movement to the emergence of new political ideas and figures? Completed on 13 May 1999 just a year after the beginning of tragic social and political unrest in Jakarta which encompassed mass student demonstrations and racial persecutions, might Marathon be a desire and a premonition of social and political changes that we have come to witness in Indonesia this last ten years? Or would this picture be a more universal reference to the imminent presence of the upstart emerging against all odds to topple the incumbents? Is this a picture that asks, almost rhetorically, if human ambition to become the best have beginning and ending points?
The six runners in Marathon are, individually and collectively, iconographies of masochism, egoism and unbridled human ambition. Gathered as they are in Marathon, they illustrate the astounding maturity of the painter, both technically and thematically.