A witness to Dutch colonialism and an active participant in the push for national independence, Affandi’s work sought to depict the realities of Indonesian life and culture just as they were lived, distinguishing his work from the romanticised styles of colonial Mooi Indie (‘Beautiful Indies’ in Dutch) and Pita-Maha. Inspired by the changing landscape following the Second World War, Affandi used painting to portray vignettes of daily life unburdened by fantasy or ideological agenda. His iconic depictions of commonplace but fascinating scenes transformed the traditional representation of Indonesia in art, granting it a fresh visual expression.
Temple Festival in Bali is a masterpiece that illustrates Affandi’s characteristically vibrant, raw portrayals of the post-colonial Indonesian identity. This piece is distinguished by earthy brown backgrounds offset with expressive colours, with which he captures the dynamic exuberance of crowds in festivity, umbrellas hoisted above their heads and animals scattered around their feet. His works uniquely capture the Indonesian identity, by depicting the Balinese figure in reality rather than as an exoticised other. In particular, the present lot is a visually striking example of Affandi’s fascination with temple festivals, birth rites and cremations, embracing all their layers of symbolism and meaning in his art. His works are unfiltered reactions to the scenes that fascinate him, and unrestricted by visual realism, he allows his subconscious and personal emotions to dance across the canvas with each stroke. As the artist reflects: “When I paint I have to do it non-stop. I just follow my feelings. I cannot stop. I have to go on” (Jim Supangkat, Affandi: Re-Analyzing Affandi, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2007, p. 69)
Affandi’s artistic eye, all the way down to his techniques, was marked by subjectivity and distortion, given how he opted to convey not the objective image, but the temperament the image embodied before him. The expressionist sentiments of his painting- harking back to the canonical works of van Gogh and Munch- made the scenes highly emotive and turned his art into a full experience.
In his riot of finger-painted lines, Affandi dismisses the conventional geometry of subjects and the constraints of logical space, drawing the viewer’s attention all across the canvas as they begin to decipher it, allowing the festival to be identified through its energetic spirit rather than specific features. Using finger impastos and directly squeezing the paints from the tube onto the canvas, Affandi’s technique created a greater tactility and directness, his artistic vision and the subject before him transmitted directly from his hands to the canvas itself without mediation. With this, each stroke visually accentuates the atmosphere of spontaneity and freedom at the festival. As such, the work directly invites the viewer into the emotion e of being in a celebration. The forceful paint marks, overlaying of figures, and warm tones allow the image to pulsate with motion. The jumbled lines overlap and intertwine across the surface; just as the crowds mingle and form a cohesive whole. Yet, even in such a densely populated space, these lines and colours are also hardly homogenous. Affandi’s quick gestural marks resonate like fireworks, as small explosions of red, cream and green command the pictorial space, simultaneously directing the viewer's gaze and generating strong celebratory sentiments. As a result, although a viewer initially encounters the painting as an observer, the work radiates a real, inclusive sense of kineticism that draws one in.
The island of Bali became the backdrop, and inspiration, for much of Affandi’s creativity, taking his vision in a direction completely opposite to the prevailing colonial imagery of the island. The 1960s then showcased the peak of his creative output, as he made the natural setting and the people of Bali an influential muse in his work. The traditional ‘exoticism’ associated with Bali and its foreign ornamentation – the flowers, garlands, and dances- are set aside, in favour of a more subtle, inclusive view. These artistic pursuits in Bali therefore came to affirm Affandi’s appreciation of their social and spiritual symbolism. Temple Festival in Bali makes up a poignant microcosm of Bali, from its village roots to its religiosity.
This lot represents an ode to the beauty of Bali, not as an exoticised space but depicted with its candid energy and spirituality. On another level, the work acts as an appeal to universal humanism, demonstrating a spirit of celebration right on the canvas for each and every viewer, but it also exists as a tribute to the community and possibility Indonesia holds in its postcolonial nationhood. Affandi’s mastery lies in his ability to breathe life into his canvas, through the vibrant warm colours and rhythmic swirls, he paints a scene- and by extension, a country- in all its beauty, vivacity and chaos.
Temple Festival in Bali is a seminal work from the period in which Affandi's trips to Bali stimulated a stylistic breakthrough, into energy-driven expressionism –which he later helped popularize globally- and a passion for rooting his subject matter in the diversity of daily life.
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