Nyoman Masriadi’s New York debut unveils his newest signature superhero characters.
The artist’s second solo exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery showcases new paintings alongside rarely seen works created between 2012 and 2014.
Art school dropout
Nyoman Masriadi (b. 1973, Bali) studied art at the Indonesian Art Institute Yogykarta but left before his final assessment due to a conflict with his teachers, according to The Jakarta Post. Returning to Bali in 1997, Masriadi worked for a year as a painter of souvenir portraits of mythological Balinese figures, and the experience reportedly led to the development of his first superhero characters.
Singaporean art dealer Jusdeep Shandu observes that Masriadi’s works were “a departure from anything [he] had ever seen”. Sporting a bold figurative style fusing popular culture and traditional motifs, Masriadi’s works address themes of political and social injustice with biting satirical wit, offering shrewd portraits of the human condition.
His early works in particular were dominated by issues focused on the collapse of the New Order regime of President Suharto in 1998. Commenting on the evolution of his own art, Masriadi says, quoted by Art Asia Pacific:
I’m only proud of my work after 1999, because that’s when I developed a particular style that explored deformation and the different ways you could draw the human figure. It happened to coincide with the post-Suharto years, but I think that the transition had more to do with me being ready to explore and synthesize my own style.
Rise of a superhero
In 2008, Masriadi’s Sorry Hero, Saya Lupa (Sorry Hero, I Forgot) set a record for a Southeast Asian artist by fetching USD619,000. Two days later, his triptych The Man from Bantul (The Final Round) sold to an Indonesian collector for USD1,000,725. As The Jakarta Post observes, prior interest in Indonesian art had been confined to old masters such as Hendra Gunawan and Affandi.
Masriadi’s first solo exhibition was also held in 2008. Organised by the Singapore Art Museum, “Masriadi: Black is My Last Weapon” showcased his unique oeuvre and technical excellence to the world. Seeing the artist’s work for the first time, Paul Kasmin Gallery’s Nicholas Olney recalls being immediately impressed:
The humor and biting wit came through immediately. [Masriadi] was speaking on a global level.
The Gallery held a solo show for Masriadi three years later. According to Bloomberg, the nine-work exhibition was an unusually robust showing on account of the rarity of Masriadi’s paintings. The artist produces only eight to ten canvases a year, and most people only encounter one or two Masriadis at a time, at auction.
By then the artist had become the “undisputed poster boy” of the Indonesian art scene, with a distinctive style that Bloomberg describes as “meticulously executed”, “deceptively simple” and “evincing trenchant political satire”. In 2013 Masriadi was one of the three honorees of Asia Society’s inaugural Asia Arts Awards, alongside Korean artist Lee Ufan and Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi.
Bearer of universal truths
Masriadi’s current show at Paul Kasmin Gallery features newly created paintings and works previously unseen by the public. Old Master (Angry Samuro) (2016) and Bounty Hunter (2016) feature monumental, muscular warriors who directly confront the viewer, while Not Bad (2015) portrays a narcissistic character who believes his looks are more important than skill.
Asset Family (2014) and Unstoppable (2015), on the other hand, employ his signature comic-book style to satirise core sociopolitical issues and the contemporary human condition, presenting potent snapshots of the effects of capitalism and corruption. The Financial Times observed in 2013:
Masriadi’s art is big and colourful but its superficial simplicity hides his real quarry: the universal truths that lie beneath the puppet play of mythology or computer games or social interactions.
- Through the spirit of the Creator: Indonesia’s Hengki Koentjoro – artist profile – April 2016 – Indonesian photographer Hengki Koentjoro’s black and white tonality captures pure expression across land and underwater
- From MTV to perpetual “nowness”: Tromarama at Edouard Malingue in Hong Kong – January 2016 – Indonesian collective Tromarama explores the concept of reality in today’s digital age
- When bamboo meets politics: 4 Indonesian artists at the Frankfurter Kunstverein – December 2015 – The Frankfurter Kunstverein spotlights 3 artists and a collective from Indonesia’s Post-Reformation generation
- Seeking semiotics in colour: British-Balinese artist Sinta Tantra – interview – August 2015 – Art Radar talks with young British-Balinese artist Sinta Tantra about who she “injects” colours into vast architectual projects, questioning communication and identity
Subscribe to Art Radar for more contemporary Indonesian art