Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art

Patronage, Pilgrimage, and the Making of Affandi as an Artist

By Sotheby's
Ground-breaking, unorthodox and evocative, Indonesian artist Affandi is one of Southeast Asia’s most daring painters from the 20th century. Two works, ARI (Affandi, Raka and Iwan) and Tower of the Sun, offers insight on the artist’s friendships that would sustain and inspire him throughout his career.

Affandi was self-taught, drawing purely from a painterly instinct, imparting his works with an original, inimitable quality. As opposed to the idealistic Mooi-Indië style that dominated the earlier half of the 20th century, Affandi sought to express an unadulterated reality of Indonesia, documenting both the beauty and bleakness of his homeland with emphatic color. The blunt lyricism of his works earned international praise at the 1954 Venice Biennale, acclaimed for his novel approach to expressionism in the already well-established field.

ARI (Affandi, Raka and Iwan) is a rare portrait of Affandi’s biggest collector, the late Raka Sumichan, and his son. What makes this painting exceptional within the artist's vast canon is the inclusion of Affandi himself in the scene, directly affirming the personal relationship he had with his sitters. ARI is undoubtedly one the most art historically import works from Affandi’s vast and varied oeuvre. On 31 December 1957, Affandi painted this masterpiece seated on the floor in Sumichan’s office in Surabaya. Although the artist is famously known for completing masterpieces within an hour, this piece took three hours to complete, only to return the following day to put some finishing touches.

Affandi, ARI (AFFANDI, RAKA AND IWAN), Estimate 3,000,000 — 4,000,000 HKD

Set in the office of his patron, the scene features Sumichan, his son and the artist bathed in a cozy yellow light. It is an intimate scene of companionship. The painting on the far-right corner draws reference from one of Affandi’s other paintings, its inclusion in Sumichan’s study suggests the sitter’s long-term support for the maestro. Sumichan is surrounded by his collection of porcelain wares, books and art, and the objects around the room is a perceptive study of Sumichan’s hobbies. At the bottom left is Affandi himself, gazing directly toward the audience. Gesturing towards the Sumichan family, he acknowledges their role in career.

Decades after ARI was painted, Sumichan encouraged Affandi to embark on a voyage to Osaka in 1970. At the time, Japan was gripped by the excitement of Osaka expo. One of the main attractions of the event was a colossal sculpture by Taro Okamoto (1911-96) called Taiyo no To (Tower of the Sun), depicting three faces: Gold, Sun, and Black Sun, each representing the future, present, and past, respectively. Galvanized by his admiration for the Okamoto, Tower of the Sun was a token of Affandi’s appreciation for the monument and its artistry. Surrounded by the dizzying lights of the expo, Affandi relied heavily on his painterly intuition rather than an objective reality to express his marvel at the overwhelming display.

By the time of the 1970 Expo, Affandi and Okamoto were close friends, having met in Paris in the early 1950s.

“Chance has brought together, at the same time, January 19, and in the same place, Paris, two Asiatic manifestations which have much in common; they are the exhibition of Affandi (at the Mirador Gallery) and that of Okomoto (at the Greuze Gallery)… Here are two painters of the same age – in their forties – one Indonesian, the other Japanese, both of whom are considered in their own countries at the top of the list, and who appear to us to be most representative of the new painting in Asia; but even more, they present and represent the predominant ferment in that region of the world.”
From the Journal: ‘Pacific’, La Nouvelle Literaire (27 January 1952)

AFFANDI, TOWER OF THE SUN, EXPO '70, OSAKA, Estimate 1,500,000 — 2,500,000 HKD

An artwork within an artwork and a stylized interpretation of an abstract work, Tower of the Sun reveals the revolutionary spirit at the forefront of 20th century Asian art. The sights from Osaka at that time left an indelible impression upon Affandi, and in his later works he reportedly transitioned from a “figurative expressionist language” into a “visual abstract-expressionistic” tone.

Sumichan recalled that Affandi was determined to paint the Tower of the Sun. The composition is bright and vibrant. His use of a more evocative range of colors is seen in the light green and yellows that compose the metallic roof overhead, subtly mirroring the effect of the expo’s neon lights against the metal surface. Affandi’s preference of using his hands to paint imparts the tower’s features with visceral emotion, its face a picture of theatrical anger. The arc of each stroke draws the viewer’s gaze upwards, imitating the staggering experience when viewing the monolithic sculptures from the ground. Under Affandi’s riveting strokes, Tower of the Sun exudes an arresting dynamism, capturing the artist’s awe.

ARI and Tower of the Sun uniquely signify the close relationship between the artist and his collector, serving as a testament to a friendship that would last for decades until Affandi’s very last breath. One year after Affandi’s demise, Sumichan passed away as well. A coalescence of stirring colors, this collection of works is a lively demonstration of Affandi’s easy versatility and his visceral talent for rendering the nuances of emotion. Both are museum quality works that are so telling of Affandi’s personal story. They highlight the bond between patron and artist, something that made the artist’s career and legacy what it is today.

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