Emblazoned with frenzied, gestural marks of luscious reds, The Freedom Process reflects the spontaneity and emotional intensity of the artist’s approach. This 2014 work broadcasts across a white canvas the inimitable creative spirit of an artist who has become one of Southeast Asia’s most prominent voices. Trained in graphic design and printmaking at the Bandung Institute of Technology, Ay Tjoe wields a deep understanding of the interaction between line, field and colour. Her early work as a graphic artist allowed her to experiment with many mediums, including dry-point technique and etching. Soon, however, she began to expand beyond boundaries of the graphic arts to express herself on a larger scale, both in size and in complexity.
Exemplified in the present painting is Ay Tjoe’s maturity in style and theme—something rarely found even in those far beyond her years. Often working in her signature medium of oil bar, Ay Tjoe invites us into her expansive personal realm, one that can only be understood by the imaginative vector of abstraction. Through her work, she struggles to define her place in the world, using her experience as a microcosm through which others might see this world. In other words, her art is allegorical, a place where the strict divisions between personal and universal are rejected in favor of connection and empathy. It is a practice informed by the vigor and reward in the relentless pursuit for meaning in the oftentimes cold countenance of human nature.
Despite the continuous evolution of her subject matter, one element of Ay Tjoe’s work has always remained constant: the primacy of the line. Though the gestural style of American abstract expressionists – artists such as Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell—might have influenced her abstract painterly idiom, Ay Tjoe insists that the basic principle in her art is always drawing. Indeed her lines dance with intuition and vitality, allowing each streak to inhabit a spontaneous, feverish affection. The almost primordial chaos of her works are always paired with moments of tranquility, allowing them become cohesive pieces, much like the best musical symphonies. This present work in its harmonious play of colour and negative space is an exemplar of Ay Tjoe’s profound linear expressions.
The Freedom Process is an extraordinary work that embodies both the emotional and intellectual force that has made Ay Tjoe acclaimed. It is a work of great passion, in the numerous ways passion can manifest: the joyful, the malicious, the delirium. Red dominates the canvas, exuberant and full of spirit, a torrent of intensity pulsing from the top of the canvas and so potent that its reach stretches far beyond what is shown on the canvas. Its trajectory is neither singular nor directed, each line moves with an independent mind of its own as it shoots in different directions. Red is the color of prosperity and love, but can also be the harbinger of danger. Interspersing this red are patches of black scratches which disperse and ground the dense web of colour writhing across the canvas. These strokes explode upon the canvas with a kinetic vigor, straddling the line between the savage and civilized, restraint and mania.
Suspended upon a blanket field of white, The Freedom Process takes on a sculptural, tactile sense of three-dimensionality in their explorations of depth. Visual relief is provided by the patches of light red, tangerine orange and faded black that permeate the composition, resembling the lightness of an ink wash and softening the harshness of its center. These patches can be understood as the ripples in water, the contemplative aftershock of an outburst of emotion. The epicenter of the painting is seemingly impenetrable, but it is in other moments of calm respite that we may begin to process and unravel the strands in Ay Tjoe’s thinking. As viewers, it is as if we are watching an unfurling force of nature from a distance, compelled at once to step back yet simultaneously drawn in by its magnetism, as if one is staring directly at the Sun.
Ultimately, The Freedom Process is a meditation on the desires, fears and joys that are found with freedom; our human instincts coexisting with a grand capacity for hope and forethought. Continuing in a rich tradition of abstraction in Bandung, Christine Ay Tjoe carves a new direction in contemporary Indonesian art. Ay Tjoe presents a new interpretation of non-representative art: one that is inspired by the unique conditions of her circumstances and innermost being.
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