This season, Christie's is proud to present Indonesian contemporary painter I Nyoman Masriadi's Masriadi Presents - Attack from a Website, one of the most singular works of the artist presented at auction for its departure from figure painting. Masriadi's brand of humour and visual wit is pointed yet subtle, direct yet coy, emerging clearly in the various guises of the painted figures that inhabit his painterly world. Well-established as a figurative painter, Masriadi's decade-long practice of painting figures of various types has yielded a number of memorable pictorial characters. Rarer in his oeuvre are his non-figure paintings, which are oftentimes particularly pointed commentarui on the artworld and society.
Masriadi Presents - Attack from a Website is one of the artist's most articulate commentary on the artworld and art practice in the 21st century. The great white shark that emerges from the meticulously painted Microsoft desktop screen is very much painted with the deliberativeness and consciousness of a contemporary artist creating an icon in the image world, a world that owes its power of proliferation to the computer and the Internet age. When one beholds Masriadi's painted great white shark, what leaps to mind is the ubiquity and power of the image in the Internet age that allows the multiple production, reproduction and distribution of images: images such as Damien Hirst's artwork of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine or the cinema poster of the Universal Studios film, Jaws, which forever sealed the perception of the aggression and danger of sharks.
In the incongruous juxtaposition of a shark with a Microsoft desktop screen, Masriadi Presents - Attack from a Website makes an oblique reference to British artist Damien Hirst's tiger shark in The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). It has come to be the iconic work of the generation of Young British Artists (YBAs) of the late 1980s and 1990s, partly through its rumoured US$8million sale to the mega-collector, Steven A. Cohen by Charles Saatchi in 2004, but also partly because of the sheer daring and ambition of Hirst in creating a work of such unprecedented originality and singularity of vision that it just had to be shared. And as the image of the work reached more people, it came to be etched as the definitive Hirst artwork that catapulted him to the fore of the contemporary art world. Masriadi's work seemingly extends Hirst's idea of impossibility in his 1991 work to a new level. Masriadi's shark emerges from a post-personal computer world, a world increasingly connected online. Reality is even further away from any physical presence.
The visual imagery and narratives in Masriadi's paintings are derived from keen and intelligent observations of social life and behavioural traits. His visual vocabulary is striking, continuously refreshing and contemporaneously relevant. In the present lot, Masriadi appropriates the language of the cinematic world, from the deliberate cinematic ring in the title of the painting, to the compositional similarity and homage paid to Jaws, one of the cinematic world's most critically acclaimed movies. In his dramatically sized shark, tightly contained within the background desktop screen, Masriadi echoes the aggression of the shark in Jaws, and emphasises its predatory nature. It is a cinematic moment he chooses to re-capture, and to appropriate a little of its iconic value.
Masriadi's shark marks a high point in his recent works in which a sense of realism overtakes his earlier, more graphical approach to painting. Early works show him sparring with Western modernism in the guise of cubism but meshing it with caricature, the language of street advertising and graffiti. The way he has overdrawn his finished paintings with a marker can best be seen as a means of inscribing himself in or against that tradition. In later works, he has become adept concentrating on a hyperrealist style, enunciating the hard tactile quality of figures in brown and black skin colours. The great white shark here is therefore particularly interesting in revealing Masriadi's breadth of ability in painting a range of different subjects.
In later works like Masriadi Presents - Attack from a Website, the messages he brings across in his paintings are more complex, perhaps less about his personal world and more dealing with a broader world beyond the confines of the artist's studio. With the great white shark in the present lot, Masriadi has created yet another new icon relevant to the most current development of art and the visual world in the internet age. The proliferation of images and the elevation of the visual above the textual in our wired 21st century is a key chord of the painting, which references both the desktop and cinematic screen. Between the two, the line between fiction and reality is breached.