Comic Book Painting

Comic Book Painting

Some things ever last. Like when a visual, delightful as food and moreover without the effort to chew, is imprinted as a memory that lasts overtime. Through the rectangular barriers and conversation balloons we are drowned in it. That is how a comic book is. No longer a mere instrument to narrate a story or a simple educational tool for children, comics have become a warm topic within the canvases of an artist.

Ever since childhood, cartoons like comic books have been a mind fuel to almost every painter. To engage in a dreamy voyage to another world is how it felt for a child to endulge in reading comics. Endless and amusing. And mothers—say my own mother—without truly banning would still scold their children to restrain from extensive comics reading. Perhaps with a concern that the child might get  too absorbed in this ‘other’ world and neglect his physical duties.

Masriadi has a rather similar story. Being fond of comics since middle high, he no longer intensely read them as he did before. However his life is in reality filled by idioms from comics.

Masriadi’s works may as well be called comic book paintings. One canvas consisted of either single or multiple story panels, could stand on its own as an independent story. It seems that whenever faces the canvas, Masriadi has prepared himself like a comic book artist who work with many pages of paper.

When it comes to work, needless to ask, Masriadi is the kind of artist who takes long time to finish a single painting even if it consists of a single story panel. His process requires one to three months , exactly the way a comic book artist finish a single work title.

There are two interesting points regarding Masriadi’s comics painting. First his canvases contain narrations or stories with various comic-identical themes such as superhero and popular lifestyle. Second, in most of Masriadi’s works one could find texts and conversation balloons similar to those frequently used in comics. So it is very appropriate to say that Masriadi is a comic book painter, but not a comic book artist.

The presence of texts or writings in his work show both Masriadi’s position and identity within the history of Indonesian visual art. Since around 1998 until today, Masriadi has been using texts (mostly written in balloons) in almost each of his artwork, like in Roadshow in Garden Gate (1998) or Save the Land (1998).

These texts might have been intended for various purposes, either practical or aesthetic. The practical is to guide appreciator in eyeing Masriadi’s ideas. This usually appears as a form of idea emphasis toward the visualized object/subject.

Texts like “Sek Asek” and “Jangan Gicu Dong!” (Please Don’t Do That!) in the work Interior  (1999) suggesting a naughty, playfully dirty mind seem to strengthen the work’s visual aspect.  While texts “Jangan coba-coba bermain denganku Son… ugh!” (Don’t You Dare Fooling Around With Me Son… ugh!) and “Cool Man” in Masriadi is the Winner (1999) show Masriadi’s pride, confidence and determination in facing his opponent in a boxing match, the heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson (whom he addressed with “Son”).

It’s a different story when you look at the work Fans Club (2008). Here the text on the skintight shirt, positioned just right at middle of the sexy woman’s chest has dual function. First is to emphasize the title. Second is to give accentuation related to the point of view of the work, which is a woman with big breasts. The text “Masriadi Fans Club” here further marks the conflicting purposes. Not only does it serve to clarify the concept, it also implies both the creative mischievousness relating to popular lifestyle and the artist’s own personal fantasy.

In aesthetic context, the text in his canvases stressed out some interesting points. It is to be noted that Masriadi often use Indonesian phrases although there are some that are written in English. For non Indonesian appreciator this could cause difficulty. But in aesthetic perspective, these texts are not to be read or comprehended, but to be enjoyed as a form of visual element. For instance texts like “Ihhh…” , “Wuuttt…” , “Ciiaatt…” might be regarded more as a picture rather than a language. When it comes to their meanings, one could simply look up to the work’s title.

Masriadi mentioned that the texts written in or out side the text balloons serve to balance the work’s composition, either in colours or area/form. Other aesthetic reason is to give break or interspace within a too packed composition. As can be seen in the work Kotonyo Bro (2013) where several text balloons are visible in certain locations for aesthetic purpose. The reverse is in Chicken Dance (2013) where texts become an important element in filling a single-figure composition.

These texts could sometimes be wayward. Should one observe, some of Masriadi’s works including Sangat Tidak Lucu (Very Unfunny), Magina, and Batman and Godlike (2013) contain randomly positioned texts written in small size using pen marker. Although I am certain that these writings were somehow carried with aesthetic consideration, they simply look erratic. At a glance, the texts seem to be written casually and without the slightest touch of elaborative accent. This, Masriadi claimed, is a form of improvisation mainly to counter the image of a sterile, precise and clean painting. In the work Sangat Tidak Lucu (Very Unfunny), the existence of text appears to be more of a written record about the object rather than a text that is read and visualized.

At the end of the day, Masriadiis almost never absent in using text as a partial element in his art. Comics and writings become intertexts.  I would like to offer a proposal that comic book artists should learn from Masriadi’s works, particularly in term of functioning a single paneled comic as a mind-blowing short story. To Masriadi, comics would continue become strong inspiration in creating art works. Besides, there are dozens of other comics yet unexplored by painters.

by Mikke Susanto