“Looking at his works, one immediately feels the unity and harmony which pervade them…Their strength comes from the broad gestural brush-stroke, from a kind of duel against the canvas, duel which must consist of rapid movements, now carried out with the brush, now merely with the hand, now—and more often—with the tube itself, in order that the inspiration may not stop even for a short moment, making therefore impossible any correction whatsoever. For him, only the direct and prompt inspiration is bound to grasp and transmit the deep and throbbing emotion.”
FlÁvio de Aquino CITED IN Affandi: Exposição Retrospectiva 1940-1966, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paolo, exhibition catalogue, 1966
Affandi’s sensational Self Portrait, Eating Watermelon engages the viewer with an energy that is both vital and magnetic. Rich in colour and texture, it is one of the most emotionally-charged works of Affandi’s career. The impastos on the tactile surface form a high level of eloquence and lyricism and the canvas is remarkably brought to life in merely five basic colours: red, green, yellow, white and black. Wielding the vibrancy and exuberance of youth, the portrait captures the spirit of the artist, who was most adept at painting what is underneath the skin.
Commanding the entirety of the canvas is Affandi’s grand head, his cranium and noble forehead prominently swathed in deep cardinal red paint. This particular composition stands apart from most pieces with the same theme in that the lower part of the artist’s face is obscured by a slice of juicy watermelon he is biting into, and most significantly, by the hands holding it. The watermelon is Affandi’s favourite fruit. Affandi had referred to it as such in his other works and was painted eating it gleefully by his friend and fellow artist, Sudjana Kerton, in 1962. In the present work, its juicy flesh is painted in a vibrant, almost flaming, shade of fresh, pinkish red.
Amid an explosion of vibrancy, a pair of hands emerges into the foreground, painted in a much darker and thus more prominent shade than the surrounding colours. The grip is the most powerful element in the composition. Affandi lavished careful details in this area. His trimmed nails, angled wrist and curled fingers, are all painted with inimitable passion, urgency and energy. The hands are presented with strength, determination and self-assurance, as if he is grabbing on to life and never letting go. Immediately on their right is Affandi’s symbol, a figure with a sun as the head - symbolizing the mind as an unquenchable source of energy – as well as hands, the artist’s tools to create his visions instantly, and feet, which represents Affandi’s commitment to always move forward.
The canon of self-portraiture within Affandi’s oeuvre is one of the great threads of Modern Southeast Asian Art. In its early years of exploration in the late thirties, when art exhibitions were not open to the average indigenous Indonesian, Affandi viewed painting his own portraits as a statement of national pride and identity and a proud declaration of who he is. As he progressed, however, Affandi ventured beyond mere representation and became an expert at painting the sheer essence of being.
Like other masters in the art of self-portraiture, such as Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Affandi was driven by a perpetual compulsion to build an artistic legacy, oblivious to the inevitable advent of advancing years. Like Bacon, the emotions are raw and primitive and when transferred onto the canvas they form a complex pool of energy that is at once intimate, profoundly reflective and mesmerizing. Affandi was 69 years old when he executed the present work, but his optimism, experiences and enthusiasm did not change, or perhaps they even enhanced, his energy level. This fantastic work undoubtedly declares that he was still in his artistic prime. With Self Portrait, Eating Watermelon Affandi pays homage to life and celebrates the power of the mind and the human spirit, and thus, taking something ordinary and transforming it into something extraordinary.