As the artist herself reflects, “as far as I know what I do and create… will shape my identity in the future”. In turn, the painting comes to represent the artist’s navigation of thought, emotion and identity, the internal now made external. All of this is progressively conveyed through Ay Tjoe’s complex visual language - composed of kaleidoscopic strokes, along with dry brush and etching techniques. Emblazoned with raw, unrestrained gestures, the canvas appears charged with palpable emotion, further heightened by the calm simplicity of the cream background. Ay Tjoe’s placement of line seems almost involuntary and uncontrolled, each brushstroke forcefully impressed onto the surface. This technique creates shifting light and dark bursts across the negative space, imbuing the canvas with flow and movement. Thick black swirls crowd out the centre of the canvas, forming the very eye of the storm, while the remaining space is punctuated by dueling whites, faint brown hues, and sharp accents of red. Most strikingly, a brilliant vermilion arm extends out of the tangle, and it is the sole identifiable shape among the confusion, sharply defined and almost eerily skeletal, featuring exaggerated joints and empty outstretched fingers. The arm valiantly stretches away and downwards as if trying to escape, or to reach for something perpetually beyond its grasp.
The work itself is structurally composed in layers of paint, each successive application covering and blending into another. However, in line with the painting’s titular ‘undercovering’, the shapes of the painting appear vividly exposed and uncovered at the same time, colours peeking out beneath each other. Additionally, the extended arms are too a graphic representation of the surface and superficial becoming stripped away, bared of skin and flesh to reveal the sharp bone and articulated joints beneath. The lines themselves stretch across the canvas uninhibited, without a singular direction or fixed intent, seeming to extend beyond the bounds of the surface itself. Thematically, the work therefore provides a symbolic glimpse into an individual’s mental depths and inner workings, now free of self-restraint and exposed in all their vigour.
In contrast to her later work and its liberal embrace of colour, The undercovering of us is a study in chromatic restraint. Here, her palette is restricted to single shades of white, black, browns and red, yet these colours are purposefully chosen to render the sharpest visual juxtaposition. These diametrically opposed black and white webs appear to symbolically represent an implicit conflict between light and darkness, yet above all, they too are two sides of the same coin, with both ultimately existing in a symbiotic balance. In the end, all these frenzied lines overlap and intertwine, such that one can no longer be disentangled from the other, only to create a greater confluence of colour. As such, disparate elements of colour and shape come together in the same space to form a unified whole. In the same humanistic vein, if the canvas reflects the confines of an individual’s self, the spectrum of shades within symbolize all the multitudes a person can contain, however unexpected or contradictory these may be. Ultimately, Ay Tjoe’s work captures a timeless and incessant internal dialogue that unravels in paint before the viewer, reminding us that we as humans can be fragile and strong, passionate and calculated, chaotic and calm, all at the same time.
Profoundly, the work’s abstract lining carries an abundance of meaning, but also the possibility of no meaning at all. Arguably, The undercovering of us stands as a deeply reciprocal work, involving both the artist and the viewer in dialogue as they individually ascribe personal interpretations to the scene before them. The very nature of Ay Tjoe’s abstract depictions grants audiences the agency to comprehend her work at will, making viewership an active, inclusive process, rather than a purely passive one.
Ay Tjoe has established her own uniquely personal direction in art - making her works immediately distinctive - and broadening the possibilities of contemporary art in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The undercovering of us combines Ay Tjoe’s signature graphic immediacy with her reflections on human nature, exploring its contradictions, inhibitions and complexity through an expressive use of line and colour alone.
 Artistic Process of Composition: Ay Tjoe Christine Interview with Taba Sanchabakhtiar, 2010
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