- World Expo, Osaka
- Signed and dated 1970
- Oil on canvas
Affandi’s oeuvre may be read as a visual analysis of the artist’s psyche. The Indonesian modernists led by fellow painter and friend, S. Sudjojono, believed that “a painting [was] the visualization of the artist’s soul… with full rein… given to the expression of intense emotions”2, for each impasto was witness to the artist’s temperament, and each narrative testimony to his world vision. Though the artist was an individual who associated himself with the Realists, if only for the fact that he painted what he saw, many of Affandi’s works are arguably seen as a study on Expressionism. Famed for his “hands on” approach of squeezing paint from the tube, as well as commitment to a specific type of aesthetic and color palette, have garnered the artist comparisons with Vincent Van Gogh. Both the painter and his Western counterpart being seen as “men who externalize[d] their feelings”3, and thus shared them with the world to embrace whole.
The present work World Expo, Osaka was created late in the artist’s life, when he was 63 years-old, and shows a new phase in the artist’s career. Indonesian art critic Dan Soejarwono once said that Affandi’s first trip to Japan in 1970 inspired the artist to “jump from the “classic” figurative expressionistic language to the visual abstract-expressionistic one”4. Earlier paintings such as Times Square (Ref. 1) are reflective of these aforementioned aesthetics. That painting is the artist's interpretation of the city populace rushing to and fro, the neon lights of Time Square illuminated by the dark shapes of the people on the pavements. Italian Town (Ref. 2) created in 1972 provides insight into the Abstract-Expressionist tone that his later paintings would embrace.
Affandi’s first trip overseas was in 1949 when he received a scholarship from the Indian government to travel through the country exhibiting his artworks. This two-year tour was beneficial to the artist’s imagination and creative maturation, and upon the completion of this period continued onwards to Europe. These trips were largely periods of physical and mental exploration, for “the modern Indonesian artist [is essentially] confronted with the need to define a self-identity to make sense of the many identities that society demands of him in his role as an individual, an artist and an Indonesian”5.
In 1957 Affandi was awarded a four-month grant from the US government to study art throughout the country, and in 1962 the artist was appointed as visiting art professor at Ohio State University. Eight years later he was invited by Raka Sumichan, an avid collector, to visit the EXPO 1970 in Osaka, Japan. The present work was created during this trip. Together with his preferred method of painting, the artist was known to study a subject for a week or more, however each piece took no more than an hour to complete. “I usually feel my emotions declining [by that time]. It is better to stop then. The painting is finished”, Affandi said6.
During his lifetime Affandi was fascinated by the concept of identity, the subject matter governing much of the paintings, notably so with his self-portraits. Those works were predominantly a reconfiguration of the artist’s likeness as seen through opposing viewpoints— the artist and his subconscious, juxtaposed with the artist and his audience, ultimately becoming “…an eloquent idiom for the representation of the self, [such as] the self’s existential experiences”7.
Self-Portrait and EXPO ’70, Osaka (Ref. 3), as the title of the work implies, shows Affandi putting his smiling face into a foreign landscape. The present painting World Expo, Osaka also alludes to this desire of being a part of the narrative, for the artist has signed his name in both English and Japanese. A rarity even in his Asian-inspired works. By leaving his mark in such fashion, Affandi's physical presence is felt even more strongly. Therefore the artist’s travel series share similar philosophy with his collection of self-portraits, for the artworks “[did not present]… the spectator with the quintessence of their subject, but their subject with a witness”8.
The works created overseas are some of the more personal pieces from the artist’s oeuvre. They provide an intimate look of his time away from Indonesia, the embodiment of a foreigner in an even stranger land. As an artist Affandi took on the role of cultural ambassador while overseas, however as a tourist he continued to experience changes in perspective. World Expo, Osaka is a perfect example of this dichotomy. While bringing the artist’s dual roles together, the painting serves as a memory of Japan, and celebrates the country as alive, and electrifying, beneath the night sky.
1. Sardjana Sumichan, Affandi Volume III, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation Jakarta and Singapore Art Museum, 2007, p. 139.
2. T. K. Sapathy, Modernity and Beyond: Themes in Southeast Asian Art, Singapore Art Museum, 1996, p. 18.
3. Refer to 1
4. Refer to 1, p. 30.
5. Refer to 2, p. 28.
6. Refer to 1, p. 137
7. Refer to 2, p. 28.
8. Refer to 1