Although Affandi often revisited this subject, this spectacular lot is unusual as the artist chose to depict the human participants of the sport. Crouched around the two animals with immense enthusiasm, the artist’s unabashed portrayal of the passion and heart of the cockfighting ritual is made ever more palpable. Exhibiting Affandi’s now mature and confident approach, the present lot shows how the artist infused Western modernist techniques with a uniquely Indonesian humanist sensibility, expressing the spirit of a moment.
He depicts two cockerels attacking each other with a crazed passion, spurred on by zealous spectators, almost flying off the canvas in the heat of their battle. His lively impasto and bold curved strokes recall the paintings of Van Gogh, as both artists express the raw intimacy of humanity and its vitality. Affandi in particular developed a visceral painting style that appears to have a pulsating rhythm. He delineates the animals with mesmerizing forceful lines, which dance subtly across the canvas. He first squeezes pigment directly from the tube and then instinctively creates markings that explode from the center of the composition. Dynamic burnt umber, black and burgundy pigments swirl in circular motions along the edges of the canvas, encapsulating, and the vivid yellow, blue and bright green feathers of the titular birds.
The fury and richness of the scene inspired Affandi, who was always drawn to activities that “express the whirling of natural forces”, endowing them with personal symbolic meaning. The focus of Balinese cockfights are not necessarily the embattled cockerels, but rather the communal spirit and vibrant atmosphere driven by the intensity of the activity – captured evocatively through the brazen use of colour in the present lot. Remarkably lifelike, the gestural rendering of the rooster’s comb and feathers capture the fury of movement. At the center of the largely darkened scene, areas of the bare white canvas revealed under the pigments also act as a spotlight for the event.
Furthermore, the addition of spectators, boisterous gamblers or proud competitive owners, charges the present scene with a frantic almost uncontainable energy. Affandi’s unique perspective allows the artist to suggest the presence of an audience by only showing the feet of some of the surrounding participants. The male figure in the foreground has his posture tense and hunched, his gaze fixed on the cockerels in heated combat. He is the likely owner of one of the titular animals as he keeps a cage which would have contained his prized possession, now unleashed onto the playing field. Affandi paints his straw hat in a bright florescent green, providing yet another focal point to the complex composition.
Ultimately, Affandi’s Cockfight pulsates with a distinctive rhythm while retaining his signature artistic idiom, drawing viewers into the heightened sensorial experience of this fascinating Balinese tradition.
1 Jean Couteau cited in Sardjana Sumichan, ed., Affandi, Volume II, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Jakarta Singapore, 2007, p. 39
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