Lot 1085
  • 1085


1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
1,875,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • I Nyoman Masriadi
  • King of Lies
  • signed and dated 18 Juni 2016; signed, inscribed, titled and dated 2016 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas


Private Asian Collection

Catalogue Note

One of the most prominent Indonesian contemporary artists in the international sphere, Nyoman Masriadi is widely regarded for his satirical caricatures of the underlying social tensions permeating Indonesian daily life. King of Lies questions the class and social factors that influence everyday interactions in a manner that showcases Masriadi’s brilliant wit and dry humour. The painting depicts a bartender holding a cocktail shaker, with a speech bubble reading, “Why are you staring at my drink, bro?”, as he looks over his shoulder at a suited man with a drink, whose thought bubble reads, “Why do I feel deceived?” Set against a simple lilac background, the two figures stand with their backs against each other. Their eyes meet in an intense glare and are caught in a tense exchange in a setting more often associated with celebration or revelry. Here, Masriadi’s negotiation and exaggeration of the human body, particularly the male figure, results in a mockery of normality. Including the traits of the artist’s idiosyncratic style, King of Lies plays with pop culture, comic motifs and darkly humorous narratives to engage his audience.

The often sarcastic and rebellious rhetoric that underscores Masriadi’s work were motivated by a history of nonconformity throughout the course of his career. The artist dropped out of the prestigious Institut Seni Indonesia in search of his own unique style, removed from the strictures of academic training. He subsequently spent a year painting studies of mythological Balinese deities, sparking an enduring artistic preoccupation with fantastical, larger-than-life figures. Painted by an artist who defies conventional expectations, this work depicts a breakdown of customary roles and social proprieties. Server and customer have their backs turned against each other, framing them in a fraught stand-off, which prompts the audience to instinctively question why the pair is displayed in such opposition. Deeply influenced by comics, anime, and video games, Masriadi employs exaggerated facial expressions and speech bubbles to describe social interaction, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s own iconic pop art. Comics carry an inherent interactivity and storytelling impulse within them, and King of Lies works to channel this aesthetic, even if the story presented here feels cryptic or abrupt. The bartender employs the slang “bro,” the familiarity of which contradicts the apparent hostility between the two men, highlighting the tension within the narrative. The bartender bears a furrowed brow suggesting he is nervously perplexed, in contrast to the customer’s own undisguised suspicion. Above all, the work demonstrates Masriadi’s discerning eye for behaviourisms and social dynamics, communicating a palpable sense of drama.

The work itself is rendered in muted purple tones, allowing these pitch black figures to come to the fore. The pair’s strikingly black, polished skin and muscular frames are characteristic of Masriadi’s aesthetic, amplifying the severity of their expressions – for the artist, the colour black is emblematic of ‘gravity, momentousness and even perilousness’[1]. Similarly, the bartender’s gleaming skin guides the viewer's attention to the exaggerated muscularity of his arm. Masriadi’s trademark bodies are concave, smooth and imposing, inspired by the visual culture of comic books and video games. However, the characters in King of Lies now seem a parody of masculinity. The two figures are distorted to the point of caricature - the surreal proportion of their enlarged heads contradicts their stocky, cartoonish lower bodies, making their forms uncannily disconcerting. Their big heads serve as visual cues, as Masriadi implicitly questions the egos of these hyper-masculinised figures.

His mastery of portraying male physicality through an instantly recognisable style is evident within this lot. Although the obviously stylised figures may initially appear comedic through their intense facial expressions and proportions, each contour of their faces is made magnified, while the detailing of veins and scars across their skin make them seem increasingly sinister as one moves closer to the canvas. Masriadi’s depictions of the male, blackened body extend to the excessive and the grotesque, deriving both from an obsession with the aesthetics of the muscular, sturdy body as a force of nature, and the potential for human power and strength.

Measuring two metres in height and width, this piece is expansive and grand in size, mimicking the larger-than-life tendencies so present in his work. Even so, the two figures occupy almost the entire visual plane, stretching from the bottom to the top of the canvas. They stand in the immediate foreground, painted close to the canvas’s ‘surface’ to maximize the image’s power and impact, meeting and seizing a viewer into the work. However, due to the hyperbolic scale of their bodies, they now appear hemmed in and enclosed by the rigid frame. As a result, the scene seems claustrophobic, as the men stand a hands-breadth apart, their distrust filling the spaces around them. Bodies and their expressions wholly define space in Masriadi’s pictures, rather than the other way round.

This piece is a unique and exceptional Masriadi work that combines the aesthetics of painting with the drama of comic art. King of Lies employs his unique ability to construct both witty and disquieting confrontational narratives in visual form. In the end, the painting is richly infused with an ambiguity of tone, the dark comic humour of everyday interactions merging with the glimpses of power beneath.

1 TK Sabapathy, Nyoman Masriadi: Reconfiguring the Body, Gajah Gallery, 2010, p.92.