Acclaimed as one of Southeast Asia’s most pioneering and enduring artists of all time, Affandi had readily embraced expressionism as part of his artistic identity, of which this painting amply demonstrates. This collection of portraits progressively chronicled and embodied Affandi’s stylistic growth over the course of his career, evolving from the traditional anatomical figures in his earlier years, to the vivid expressionism he perfected and expressed in this work. His self-portraiture became a vehicle of reflection, such that rather than striving towards a strictly photorealistic representation, this portrait is instead a subjective, distorted one – forgoing reality in favor of direct emotional representation, itself evocative of Van Gogh’s own explorations of daring color and blended lines.
Featuring his signature eclectic use of color, his self-portrait melds both lighter green, yellow and orange hues with the intensity of red, black and brown. His features, while indistinct, are that of an old man, eyes downcast and face marked with deep wrinkles, framed by tangles of hair. Visually, Affandi’s painted face is distinctly split in half, the left side described in tonal opposition to the right. His left is marked with bold, predominant strokes of blended red and black, shrouding it in an unsettling depth of shadow. By contrast, his right is expressively illuminated, a palette of yellow, green, orange and subtler white overtones overlapping to create the illusion of light. The streaks of paint themselves crowd across the canvas, forming tactile, three-dimensional impastos as Affandi applied paint directly from the tube onto the surface, manipulating line and direction using his fingers, wrists and palms. All these elements contribute to his chaotic freedom of style, each line intertwining to create a sense of organic movement and flow throughout the image – a crude, yet dynamic and immediate art form.
Affandi’s portraiture had always been a piercing instrument of self-analysis and inner negotiation. While the somber juxtaposition of the dark reds with the brighter vigour of his right side seem to stand for a larger confrontation or division within his own self, both these facets ultimately coexist within the same space, coming together to form an inclusive duality of colour and mood. Even as contrasting colours dominate opposing halves, his darker left side is punctuated with minute accents of bright yellow and his right is dotted with the same shadowy red and blue - all coming together to form a greater impression of dimension and visual perspective. In this self-portrait, Affandi confronts a complex, multiple identity mediated through paint.
This Self-portrait earnestly renders an individual’s imperfections, without prejudice or erasure. As the artist himself reflects, ‘My subjects are expressive rather than beautiful’, he became his most enduring subject over time. Through his artistry, Affandi ultimately seeks to channel an authenticity of self that exists beyond the physical body, moving beyond two-dimensional ideals of art and beauty to capture his world in all its real-life complexity.
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