- Ahmad Sadali
- Abstract Composition
- Signed and dated 68
- Oil on canvas
- 88 by 99 cm; 34 1/2 by 39 in.
Collection of a Danish diplomat
Private Collection, Europe
“Modern art is a type of creation exercised by contemporary artists who make use of every facility existing in today’s space and time. It involves the effort to find a new ground of reality that is a quandary from which modern man finds no escape. It is an insight contending a search of knowledge that can clarify the relationship between the self and the world” – Sadali1
After Indonesian independence, artists spanning from across the archipelago began a philosophical quest to find their new nation’s modern, visual identity. The style of realism dominated the discourse, with nationalistic artists breaking away from the romanticized Mooi-Indie renderings of the time and depicting more authentic realities of life in Indonesia. However, a group of artists emerging from Bandung simultaneously ran counter to this canon, finding their voice in abstraction. The pioneering visionaries from what is ubiquitously known as the artists of “The Bandung School” assimilated cubism, colour field painting and abstraction with their own cultural perspectives, ultimately generating fresh modes of thinking. With the germination of the Visual Arts Department at the Bandung Institute of Technology in 1950, these painters began producing avant-garde works that coerced viewers to question the nature of space and form and open their minds to alternative methods of visual representation. Concurrently, their American counterparts, such as Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, were embarking on a similar journey in their development of abstraction, shattering the very notions of representational art and bringing cutting-edge concepts to the vanguard of the art world.
Veritably, one of the most prominent artists hailing from The Bandung School was Ahmad Sadali, a muralist, designer and academic revered for his ability to intellectualize the external world, break it down into its most rudimentary fragments, and subsequently reconfigure them into whimsical forms that conjure more macro abstract narratives. As one of the most senior artists from his generation, Sadali was an august personage, highly respected within this counter-cultural movement of abstract art in Indonesia. He stands as one of the first individuals to foray into the genre of abstract art and is therefore celebrated for his pioneering spirit.
This season, Sotheby’s is proud to offer two striking works by Sadali, painted five years apart, showing varying aspects from his bold oeuvre. As evident in these works, much of Sadali’s artistic practice was a means to transcend reality, and redefine it within a framework that absorbs his instinctive and emotional connection with the beauty of nature. Though he was interested in being a part of Indonesia’s nationalistic artistic dialogue, he took a different aesthetic route once the country had achieved independence in 1945 and instead focused on studying the visual nature of the world and then filtering it as an abstract paradigm. In the same vein, numerous artists worldwide who were moved by the aftermath of the World War II veered in a similar direction, such as Antonio Tapies, Lucio Fontana, and Nicolas de Staël, all of whom explored space and colour on a geometrical level.
It is conceivable that Sadali created Lelehan Emas Pada Bidang Ultramarine in pursuit of an unadulterated idealism and purity in the way of life. The resonant blue pigment employed in this work is reminiscent of “International Klein Blue,” a strikingly reverberating, powdery ultramarine pigment patented by post-war artist Yves Klein, who claimed that this distinct colour denoted the manifestation of cosmic energy that hovers in space. Much like Klein, who augmented his canvases with sponges, Sadali also includes three-dimensional additions to his flat works in order to transform them into bright and three-dimensional biomorphs. This way, Sadali achieves a dramatic sculptural quality by including protruding pillow-like forms, with earthier, granular elements smeared on the surface of the work. The stream of iridescent gold running down the center of the bolster is another invention of this earthy substance, merged with gold dust. Many artists from Sadali’s circle recognize him for introducing them to the use of gold-leaf to illuminate his abstract works, much in the same way that representational Mughal miniatures were brightened with gold-leaf in association with divinity, wisdom and enlightenment.
As evident in Abstract Composition, Sadali experimented with various mediums in order to push boundaries and challenge the flat nature of his canvases. Here, Sadali creates concoctions of clay, marble dust, glue, sand and oil paint 2, creating a thick, viscous impasto that he applies onto the canvas with a palette knife. After painting multiple veneers, he would then incise this unique, wet substance with frolicking lines, coiling and straightening fancifully in order to create a rhythmic, intricate colour field, subtly highlighted with dashes of gold pigment. The spontaneity of these engraved scribbles are reminiscent of the of Cy Twombly’s lines, while the physical density of them echo ancient bas-reliefs carved on andesite, which can be found across Indonesia. In this regard Sadali’s form of abstraction departs from the premeditated nature of geometric abstraction. Soft, sensuous and tactile, the present lot is a more lyrical approach to abstraction, summoning the primordial.
Sadali’s childhood may provide deeper insights into his works. Born during colonial rule in Garut, West Java, Sadali was brought up around diverse images, as his father owned a printing business and his grandmother produced batik textiles at home. The warm palette of Abstract Composition and the sense of vibrancy that emanates from its detailed patterns hark back to the batik textiles that his grandmother made. Alternatively, they could represent the sinuous formations of padi fields and harvests. As a child, Sadali had a special affinity with nature, and it is no surprise that we can see traces of landscape painting through the presence of a horizon line and smaller colour fields that appear to embody the earth and the crops. The surface of this work is a vivacious composition of lines and lozenges of colour, with assorted forms rhythmically dancing across the composition. In Javanese culture the artist is akin to a priest, an empu, as he is considered someone who can touch upon two dissimilar realms: the material and the spiritual3. For Sadali, abstract art was a means to depict the invisible with visible layers of paint, as evident in the celestial power of colour employed in Lelehan Emas Pada Bidang Ultramarine. As an admirer of Rothko, whose soft colour fields radiated with a sense of mysticism, Sadali also imparts otherworldly elements to his works. In fact, for Sadali, the act of creation was one that supersedes that of meditation, as it serves as a means to sink deeper into mindfulness.
Sadali’s international education and many voyages abroad further inculcated in him more western concepts, which he would later blend with memoirs from his Javanese youth. He studied and later became a professor at the Bandung Institute of Technology. Additionally, he was granted the National Art Award from the government in 1972 as his works were deemed significant additions to the country’s modern art history. In his speech at a symposium and exhibition of Contemporary Asian Art at the Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, in 1980, Sadali stated: “Viewed as a whole, modern Indonesian art seems like a mosaic in the move. In this mosaic is then reflected the spirit of the age, which at the same time relates to the life of the Indonesian people in general. Indonesian artists today look upon themselves as a member of a bigger family, the family of man. They know that they have received something from this big family, and whenever they create, they know that they not only contribute something to the artistic wealth of their nation, but also to the artistic wealth of man.” 4
Lelehan Emas Pada Bidang Ultramarine, painted in 1973, and Abstract Composition, created in 1968, both summon the transcendent nature of the universe. With colour fields embodying heaven and earth, both works emphasize a sense of balance between opposing elements, including rough and smooth surfaces, matte and glistening hues, the form and the formless. Summoning the viewer to embrace divine energy and to ponder the very existence of form, space and life itself, these rare masterpieces truly represent the pinnacle of Sadali’s legacy.
1Jim Supangkat, The Hidden Works and Thoughts of Ahmad Sadali, Edwin's Gallery, Jakarta, 1997, p. 16.
2 Helena Spanjaard, Ahmad Sadali, p. 40.
3 Ibid, p. 41.
4 Ibid, p. 55