The Bali-born artist stands today as one of leading voices in contemporary Asian art, and he is most famous for his provocative paintings featuring protagonists with exaggerated physiques and larger-than-life personalities. Following a short stint at the Art Institut Seni Indonesia, Masriadi dropped out and instead spent a year painting mythological Balinese figures—a year which established the underpinnings of his preoccupation with depicting the übermensch that dominate his oeuvre. An artist of the post-Suharto era, he draws on contemporary Indonesian politics and global popular culture as sources for biting commentary; Masriadi’s unabashed appropriation and mingling of various visual motifs and images in his own art provides a funhouse mirror from which to view the world.
Old Master (Anger of Samuro) exemplifies Masriadi’s flair for the dramatic and monumental. He takes inspiration from the long and storied lore of the samurai, which has long been a source of fascination for popular culture. Rooted in the traditions of the Japanese warrior class, the samurai were renowned for their martial ability, honour code, and staunch discipline; in designing the character of Samuro, Masriadi masterfully blends elements associated with the traditional samurai, such as the katana, with stylised elements from the comic books and video games he loves, like the artificially inflated physique of the protagonist. The protagonist’s colouring is characteristic of Masriadi’s distinctive aesthetic—the colour black represents to the artist ‘gravity, momentousness and even perilousness,’(T.K. Sabapathy, Nyoman Masriadi: Reconfiguring the Body, Gajah Gallery, 2010, p. 115) and his oeuvre features many works of black-skinned men whose strength and athleticism informs their very identities.
To that end, the muscle-bound, hyperbolic masculinity of the protagonist is another signature character of Masriadi’s artistic style. In fact, Samuro’s brawny build is far removed from that of the typical samurai; his frame is constructed from units of pure muscle, distorting it into something that appears almost grotesque in its plasticity. As the son of a traditional sculptor in Bali, Masriadi utilises the body in itself as the source of narrative expression in the work-- the very act of caricature endows the protagonist with dramatic potential. At the same time, Masriadi takes special care to illustrate the blemishes and scars dotting Samuro’s body, lingering remnants of old battles that he wears like badges of honour. The result is a male figure who revels in his overwhelming physicality and strength, and the frame of the painting seems almost unable to contain his impressive bulk.
Masriadi made his reputation as a satirist with his tongue-in-cheek, sometimes absurdist subversions of tropes in his art. In this instance, Samuro plays on the highly dramatized persona and values of the samurai as a part of Masriadi’s process aimed at investigating and deconstructing masculine icons. Like in a previous work titled The Old Master (Snapping Provocation of Samuro), Masriadi depicts Samuro in old age—his silver moustache and beard lend him an air of battle-worn experience, yet his outrageous ferocity takes away from the expected gravitas associated with the wisdom of elders. The oxymoronic presentation of masculinity against the vagaries of age continues a concept Masriadi explored in The Old Master, and constitutes a new thematic milestone in his career.
Old Master (Anger of Samuro) brings a sense of freshness to the interpretation of the honourable warrior figure by weaving in various visual references that exist outside of samurai culture. For instance, the protagonist’s nose ring brings to mind the metal hoops used for domesticated cattle or bullfighting. By evoking the bloodlust and spectacle of a bullfight, Masriadi appears to personify the animalistic aggression of the bull in the piercing, red-eyed gaze. In addition, Samuro is stripped of armour, donning only a necklace of teeth and stud earrings as accessories. This rather incongruous detail is perhaps a reference to Indonesian indigenous cultures, or another means of grounding the protagonist in a contemporary, postmodern context by surrounding his figure with a pastiche of cultural allusions.
Ultimately,Old Master (Anger of Samuro) exemplifies Masriadi’s artistic explorations of the modern human condition through the body. “The figure, the human figure is its own drama, its own theatre; it is both actor and story,” (T.K. Sabapathy, Nyoman Masriadi: Reconfiguring the Body, Gajah Gallery, 2010, p. 115) the artist once said. In that vein, this powerful painting probes at the ego and fate of its larger-than-life protagonist by bringing to the forefront the dramatic, almost three-dimensional presence of his body. The present lot is an exceptional work which captures the raw energy and dynamism of Masriadi’s figuration; the undercurrent of ironic detachment and sharp humour running through the painting lends the monumental figure of Samuro a playful, provocative air that speaks to Masriadi’s mastery of satire.
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