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’. 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.
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