Tracing the map of Indonesian modern visual art is like traveling from time to time of the development of art of this country. It is a long history indeed, which started from about 200 years ago with the emergence of a painter named Raden Saleh (b. 1811). Following him were both Dutch and indigenous painters who were later known for their style of Mooi Indie (1900-1940s)
The surrender of the Dutch power in the hand of the Japanese gave birth of new generation in the scene of Indonesian visual art. The Japanese era was more interesting than the previous era, which was dominated by paintings of natural sceneries. Those emerging during the Japanese occupation eventually became the strong pillar of the development of Indonesian visual art until today.
The independence of Indonesia on 17th August 1945 following the defeat of Japan in the World War II also brought significant impact to it. The prominent painters of the time were Sudjojono, Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Basoeki Abdullah, Dullah, Suromo, etc. They are now considered as the important figures of the history of modern Indonesian visual art.
The artists appearing after the era of Japan were identified with their involvement in the struggle of defending the independence of Indonesia. The post-colonial era was marked by a series of incidents that contributed to the production of many revolutionary artworks. There were only few artists able to endure amid the hardness of the time. It was in the 1950s and under protection of President Sukarno when visual art began to develop again as marked by the establishment of visual art academies in Bandung (Visual Art Faculty in the Technology Institute of Bandung, 1949) and in Yogyakarta (Academy of Indonesian Visual Art, 15th January 1950).
In 1960s, besides the significant roles of the visual art academies, political upheaval in the country made appear new generation of artists affiliated with political parties. This condition gave birth to artists’ groups and art studios that applied a variety of the aesthetics of art as parts of their parties’ struggle. This trend began to subside after the downfall of President Sukarno’s regime. Then, from the 1970s to 1990s modern visual art turned to be more pluralistic and lyrical with the growth of various styles and genres such as decorative, calligraphist, etc.
It was in the beginning of the 70s when a number of artists from the reputable academies established a visual art movement, which later would become the embryo of contemporary visual art as still growing today. Artists like FX. Harsono, Jim Supangkat, Hardi, Bonyong Munny Ardhi, etc., made an exhibition and declared the New Indonesian Visual Art Movement at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Jakarta.
Following the emergence of this movement, creative ideas kept coming up. Artists from the academies seemed to dominate the scene in number. Many groups of artists appeared until the 1990s, bringing their personal styles and ideas with inspiration from surrealism and abstract art. In the late of 1990s another generation came up with influence from the political upheaval known as the Reformation Movement of 1998.
Masriadi is an artist raised in the 1990s generation. He attended the Indonesian Institute of Arts, majoring in Fine Art, in 1993 but he quitted in 1997. Like other students of the decade, he witnessed the reformation movement but he did not directly make this political event as part of his paintings. The situation contributed to making conducive atmosphere for the development of personal styles and ideas in Indonesian visual art, including in him.
The freedom given by the reformation era considerably affected students of art academies. From these academies appeared many quality artists. Masriadi’s contemporaries are among others Jumaldi Alfi, Rudi Mantofani, Handiwirman Syahputra, Yunizar, Yusra Martunus, Suraji, Budi Kustato, Yuli Prayitno, Stefan Buana, and M. Irfan. The first five artists are known as members of Seni Rupa Jendela group. Their reputation in both national and international scenes of visual art is without doubt.
Meanwhile from the classes two or three years above and below many distinguished young artists appeared. The 90s generation before Masriadi—Balinese painters who studied in Yogyakarta—must be mentioned here. They are Made Sumadiyasa, Pande Ketut Taman, Nyoman Sukari and Putu Wijaya. Besides them, there are Agung Kurniawan, Ugo Untoro, S. Teddy D who are quite well known in the development of contemporary visual art in Indonesia. Eko Nugroho, Jompet Kuswidananto, Angki Purbandono, artists joining Taring Padi are Masriadi’s juniors who are close to him.
Masriadi’s career did not begin with a series of exhibitions as done by the artists mentioned above. He just made a few exhibitions such as the significant one he did with a female painter, IGK. Murniasih, at Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta in 2001. Eventually he could make a solo exhibition at Singapore Art Museum with the support from Gajah Gallery Singapore. He may be misapprehended because he did not make or join many exhibitions before.
His name has risen since the explosion of art market when his painting titled “The Man from Bantul (The Final Round)” was sold as much as IDR 10 billion at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Action House in 2008. It led a controversy. There were people disregarding him because of his lack of achievement yet sudden success. However, many others considered his phenomenal and important because a young painter could sell his work higher than his seniors.
Masriadi’s valuable contributions are his ideas on which he puts the base for producing artworks. His works lead us to enter new worlds of fantasy or at least to the worlds that other Indonesian or Asian painters have never touched. He explores diverse discourses of intermixture of the West and East that is enriched with his unique ideas. Physically he looks like a serious, awkward, reserved individual but his paintings can make us laugh, sense his cynicism and, perhaps, lead us to perceptions of fantastic yet light themes.
He has successfully “conquered” everything. He is clever in using his fondness of video game, anime, comics and superhero icons and his fidelity to the images of popular culture in his paintings. Given excellent skill of visualizing, he has make his existence recognized in the world of visual art. The history of Indonesian visual art that has lasted since 200 years ago keeps going, transferring the batons to young artists including Masriadi.
By Mikke Susanto