Lot 1067
  • 1067


1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Christine Ay Tjoe
  • The Workers 
  • Signed and dated 10; Signed, titled and dated 2010 on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 170 by 200 cm; 67 by 78 3/4  in.


Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7 October 2012, Lot 229
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Private Asian Collection


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of light wear along the edges of the work. All other inconsistencies are due to the artist's working method. Unframed, on a stretcher.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A paroxysm of prismatic colors and exquisite linework, The Workers by Christine Ay Tjoe is a captivating embodiment of the artist’s intuitive blend between the figurative and abstract. Dated to 2010, The Workers is an outstanding feature from Ay Tjoe’s transitional period, preluding her movement into an aesthetic composed of looser, freer brushworks laden with evocative lyricism. The lively masterpiece brims with profusive energy and captures the titular workers in spirited form, their amorphous figures skirting the borders between physical and metaphysical. An artist who sought to convey the intricate complexities of human life in her work, Ay Tjoe’s The Workers is an exuberant translation of reality in abstract, rhapsodic format.

Since childhood, it was apparent that Ay Tjoe was destined to be an artist. Growing up in a household of four children and working parents, the Bandung native led a mostly solitary life playing with self-made dolls, a fortuitous foreshadowing for her illustrious future in art.[1] Driven by an endless pursuit of creative expression, Ay Tjoe established her technical groundwork at the Bandung Institute of Technology, graduating the school with a degree in graphic design and printmaking. These skills would prove integral in her opus, forming the backbone of her signature, variegated textures of color fields and enthralling lines, demarcating her work as one of unparalleled originality. Critically acclaimed for her thought-provoking, emotive oeuvre, Ay Tjoe is recognized both domestically and internationally as one of the leading voices from Indonesia’s contemporary art scene.

In an exercise of spontaneity and expert ingenuity, The Workers is an energetic piece charged with expressive vitality. The canvas is emblazoned with unrestrained, electrified lines that instill the masterpiece with a syncopated rhythm, exuding a buoyant dynamism specific to Ay Tjoe’s abstractions. Executed in her stunning abstract lexicon, The Workers is underpinned by Ay Tjoe’s familiarity with intaglio, a drypoint technique utilized in printmaking to reproduce incisions made on metal plates upon the work. A playful experimentation with the architecture of lines and form, Ay Tjoe enacts each stroke upon the surface with whimsy and improvisation. Refusing to confine herself to the brush, the maestro also uses her hands to engage directly with the piece, rubbing the hard lines with her own palms.[2] The resulting effect is a visceral medley of stained color fields, each rendered in Ay Tjoe’s idiosyncratic taste. The same candidness is echoed with the colors spilling across the work in a vibrant flourish, animating the scene with a brilliant mosaic of navy, orange and fuchsia. An eclectic amalgamation of painting and etching-inspired sketching, The Workers attests to Ay Tjoe’s ground-breaking versatility and expertise across various mediums of art.

“In working, she often takes inspiration from her own intricate life journey. But not infrequently, she also reflects on the external or social world...”[1] The Workers is a refreshing insight into the psyche of Christine Ay Tjoe and her reflections on societal issues. The enigmatic complexity of the piece is layered in a series of organic, nebulous forms that balances the fine line between objectivity and illusion. The workers’ teeming energy is barely contained within white lines, their muscular thighs grounding their figures in physical reality. Their torsos merge together in a disparate fusion of stark black and pure white, moving beyond their delineated boundaries that obfuscate the lines between abstraction and reality. A distinct black line stretches across the white color field, suggestively alluding to an arm resting across the back in amicable camaraderie. The artist outlines in ambiguous forms, elements of the worker’s physical labor. A tool belt, strong gripping hand and a nail-pierced crown balanced upon a head, are all sketched into the morphing composition. Ay Tjoe’s synthesis of diametrically opposing tonalities conceives a fundamental unity between the two workers, regardless of their physical appearances. Their heads merge together in a resplendence of polychromatic harmony, a sharp visual juxtaposition to the monochromatic display below, conceiving a euphoric meeting of minds overcoming the physical barriers of their bodies. In a contemplative engagement with society, Ay Tjoe articulates a vivid dialogue in her abstract vernacular, reminding the viewer to privilege the internal as much as the external. 

Chaotic, mesmerizing and profound, The Workers is an enlightening commentary that pays homage to the erudite, philosophical nature that characterized Ay Tjoe’s stirring oeuvre. Embodying a spirit of hard-work and comradery the present lot brims with an undeniable energy, pulsing with colour and intensity. An exception to her local peers who often worked in realistic and photographic genres, the artist pushed the frontiers of Indonesian contemporary art with her expressive abstract idioms.

[1] Hidenori Ota, Myriad of ‘paste’: ay tjoe christine, Tokyo 2013, 5.
[2] Ibid., 6. 
[3] Ibid., 6.