I Nyoman Masriadi
- I Nyoman Masriadi
- The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro)
- Signed and dated 2016, signed, titled and dated 2016 on the reverse
- Acrylic on canvas
Since his emergence on the Yogykarta art scene, Bali-born Masriadi has gained a formidable reputation as one of Asia’s strongest and most singular voices in contemporary art. With a cult-like following for his provocative paintings starring protagonists of other-worldly physiques as well as personalities, Masriadi strikes at the core of a whole web of issues. These issues are sometimes difficult, but always relevant. In his pictorial practice we see Masriadi’s strong tendency towards defiance. In fact the artist has always been unwilling to succumb to the rigidity of social expectations, divorcing his work from the typical aesthetic traditions of Balinese arts early on in his career. Dissatisfied with the teaching methods at the Art InstitutSeni Indonesia, Masriadi dropped out of school and spent a year painting souvenir portraits of mythological Balinese figures. Reportedly this was the beginning of the artist’s obsession with figuration of a superlative brand.
As a young man who grew up during the Suharto Era (1967-98), Masriadi’s narratives delve into contemporary Indonesian politics and global pop culture—offering biting commentary while articulating his individual perspective. This propensity for the controversial, as well as an acute faculty for aphorisms, has launched the talented artist to critical heights. Paired with an undertone of sarcasm, Masriadi’s works permeate with the tenacity of his own reflections. A recent work of massive stature, The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro) explores the madness of age and constitutes a thematic milestone in the artist’s career.
The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro) bears the distinct characteristics of Masriadi’s artistic process, particularly in the formation of an iconoclastic subject that resonates personally at multiple junctures. Revered for their staunch discipline, unwavering loyalty and masterful art of the sword, samurais are fighters to be feared and respected. Masriadi draws inspiration from his much loved computer games and pop formats. Samuro, also known as the ‘blademaster’, is a mythologized samurai with supernatural characteristics. This impressive work depicts one of the senior Samuro as the new superhero, but subverts certain assumptions of respect and authority. In many ways The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro) marks a new stage for an artist who has gained the very success many aspire towards.
Masriadi casts his protagonist as the sole occupier of this compact canvas, cropping the frame to show only his face and bulking upper body. Importantly The Old Master’s brawny build is far removed from the typical physique of a samurai. Rather, his frame is constructed from sinuous units of pure muscle, appearing horrifically unnatural and grotesque. This distortion towards the bionic caricature is a well-oiled dialectic device that steers Masriadi’s works towards the satirically profound.
The artist’s knack for the monumental is amplified in The Old Master’s dense composition, barely able to contain the provoked giant within. By building his painting around the verticality of the sword and a symmetrical line along Samuro’s top knot, Masriadi stretches the image beyond the canvas. He also employs his favored opaque black that “symbolically and generally…conveys gravity, momentousness and even perilousness.”1 Against a chasm of white, Samuro’s hyperbolic physique weighs in and out of the pictorial space. It is as if the power of his strength and anger could break through the limits of his two-dimensionality. Indeed, teeming works such as The Old Master (Snapping of Samurai Provocation) tend to intrude the viewer’s periphery, imposing the figure’s overwhelming physicality and testing the boundaries of painting as a medium.
Executed with fervid detail, the The Old Master’s pitch-black skin has been buffed into a glossy marble-like quality. As a son of a traditional sculptor in Bali, Masriadi has developed an emblematic technique that imbues his characters, like the samurai, with a certain touch of glamour. Likewise his brushwork highlights every blemish and scar left on the warrior’s body. Despite his idealization, The Old Master bears the pains and memories of his battles as marks of his extensive experience. Even his immaculately silvered beard and moustache have been delineated strand by strand, while his well-worn bands ready him for yet another fight. Masriadi’s protagonist commands his authority not just from his toughness, but as a soldier of admirable fortitude. Yet his outlandish ferocity and abandoned emotion robs The Old Master of an air of maturity. Notably, the artist seldom paints the realities of old age, making his subversion of the “grand master” or sensei, a particularly rare and novel statement.
Furthermore, The Old Master’s severe frown, which is clenched tighter than his fists, draw attention to his eyes and mouth—stained in a bright, mad red. Rendering his characters attractively grotesque yet ambiguously threatening, the artist triggers in his audience a myriad of questions: Who does The Old Master represent? Who is he attacking? Why is he so terribly infuriated? Is his anger justified? Throughout his career, Masriadi has proven his ability to rein in this curiosity and sharpen it with his sardonic comments on the world’s imperfections.
While the image of a samurai is often adapted, popularized and even misappropriated, Masriadi’s gift in weaving in his own cultural background gives this particular interpretation an edge and freshness. A samurai’s highly dramatized persona and embodiment of heroic values provide rich material for the artist’s subversive process which is aimed at investigating masculine icons. In The Old Master (Snapping of Samuro Provocation) Masriadi presents a contemporary model, stripped of his armor and wearing tribal-like jewelry. The master’s carnal necklace and stud earring are perhaps references to Indonesian indigenous cultures or ornaments of honor. These adornments project onto the protagonist a cartoon-like plasticity as he is fashioned with incongruous elements. As such The Old Master becomes both an overzealous stereotype and a sort of tyrant of the past. He is readily comical but brazen with feeling.
In the present lot, Masriadi places the audience at the mercy of a menace unleashed - yet some of his character’s terror and potency has been stripped away. At the center of the whole painting is one of the trying symbols of Masriadi’s rhetoric: The Old Master wears a nose-ring, akin to the metal hoops used for domesticated cattle or bullfighting. The later are spectacles of thrill. In a contest of ferocity and machismo, a matador antagonizes a bull to charge at a red cape and thrusts his sword, killing the powerful animal at the very end. Masriadi seems to personify the bull’s animalistic provocation in the piercing redness of Samuro’s eyes, injecting his narrative with a subtle fatality.
Ultimately, The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro) traces back to Masriadi’s first explorations of the egos and fates of athletes in competitive combat. However this recent work probes not just at the vacuous violence of his protagonist, but also carries strong personal connotations—its specificities are positioned coyly for viewers to decipher. A highly self-conscience artist, Masriadi continues to challenge the art world’s conventional dialogue and condemns society’s hypocrisies with his uniquely sharp humor. The artist proclaimed: “If I criticize somebody, if I am angry with somebody [I tell it] through my paintings.” 2 In The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro), Masriadi’s confidence in his individual and artistic maturity rings clear. This powerful painting is decisively a product, process and actor of provocation.
1T.K. Sabapathy, Nyoman Masriadi: Reconfiguring the Body, Gajah Gallery, 2010, p.92.
2 Ibid, p. 115.