Widely renowned as an artistic pioneer in Indonesia, the Cirebon-born Affandi is celebrated for innovating his signature artistic modus of directly applying paint from the tube and smearing it thinly across the canvas by hand. Affandi’s approach—which has been described by some as Expressionist—is uniquely suited to capture the highly charged setting of the cockfight. Depicting the explosive ferocity of the cockfight in medias res, the present work captures a stirring scene between three gamecocks engaged in battle, while bearing all the hallmarks of Affandi’s well-loved artistic vocabulary: the three titular birds are depicted with forceful lines and curves and outlined with bold contours, and the paint is delivered with a heavy, tactile impasto. In Cockfight, Affandi deliberately opts for a vivid color palette, as though to convey the vibrant dynamism of the ritual: the plumage of the fowls are gloriously constituted by mesmerizing swirls of viridian, cerulean, vermillion and amber, delineated by occasional streaks of white. The background, deliberately left sparse to emphasize the focal positioning of the three fowls, bears markings of Affandi’s palm and finger prints alongside occasional streaks of auburn, ochre and midnight blue, lending the work a sense of balance and harmony.
Despite eschewing his early Naturalist approach, Affandi retains a keen eye for representing fine detail, motion and posture in this work, uniquely reinterpreting the scene in his signature Expressionist style. The rendering of the roosters’ comb, wattle and sickle feathers are all remarkably lifelike, paralleling the actual motion one would observe in a real-life cockfight and reflecting Affandi’s keen observation of Balinese quotidian life during his stay on the island. The joints of their hind-limbs, similarly, are faithfully reproduced in accordance to anatomical accuracy, from the curvature of the claws to the slightly-protruding spur. Yet, true to Affandi’s Expressionist-influenced artistic praxis, there remains a persistent emphasis on his own affective and subjective experience of the cockfight. While figural representation never truly recedes from view, Affandi’s use of fluid strokes and dramatic curves suggests that the work intends to draw the viewers viscerally into the heightened emotional charge of the setting of a cockfight—undoubtedly buoyed by the boisterous cheering of gamblers and onlookers alike—rather than acting as a photographic account of the fight itself. Similarly, the swirling motion of the feathers, combined with the the abundant use of warmer tones, alludes to the fitful flickers of a flame, as though the three fowl were set ablaze in an eruption of energy and color, ultimately animating the work with a spirited quality. Ultimately, Affandi’s Cockfight pulsates with a distinctive rhythm while retaining his signature artistic idiom, drawing viewers into the heightened sensorial experience of the Balinese cockfight.
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