Artist Pranoto Strips Away Pretension

by Margaret Agusta (Contributor-Jakarta)

Exerpt from the Jakarta Post, Thursday, June 19, 2003

(including image as run with article)

 The sign placed in the window of the Galeri Milenium, a small, hole-in-the-wall exhibition
 space in the crowded Diamond Plaza commercial complex on JL.RS Fatmawati in
 South Jakarta simply said: "Nudes by Pranoto".

 The exhibition, like the sign, says so little and yet so very much.
 There is no grand pretension here, no stated or written theory of art,
 no attempt to link the artist's work with any past or current "ism",
 and no effort to justify its content or lack of it.

 Besides a short note that the artist "hopes this exhibition in Jakarta will enrich
 the world of art in Indonesia", the catalog carries only a somewhat cryptic
 commentary by Yulianto Liestono, the owner and director of   Galeri Milenium,
 on the the controversial nature of the subject matter: nude human figures.

 Nudes as a central focus of an artist's body of work are indeed a rarity
 within the history of modern Indonesian art. Pranoto, a self-taught painter
 born in Sragen, Solo, Central Java in 1952, but currently living and working
 in Bali, is one of the very few Indonesian artists to focus with such intensity
 on life or figure drawing in his work.

 Although some local painters have occasionally exhibited one or two
 paintings of semi-nude or nude figures within a context of a much greater
 number of portraits, still lifes and landscapes, whole shows of paintings of nudes are highly

 Even Affandi's full frontal nude self-portraits, and Basuki Abdullah's seductive,
 semi-nude representations of an "ideal female beauty" are exceptions to the rule
 in Indonesia's world of painting. For that reason alone, Pranoto's current display
 at Galeri Milenium is notable and potentially controversial.

 "Upon hearing the word 'nude', a person might automatically think of eroticism,
 genitals, pornography, lewd behavior or other impropriety," Yulianto Liestiono,
 who studied at the Indonesian Institute of Art (ISI) in Yogyakarta, commented.
 "But the same word can also call other impressions to mind, such as honesty,
 trust, submission or even love. This dichotomy is probably what stirs up confusion
 about what kind of stance to take on nudity. A community of people can become
 extremely polarized or even hostile to one another when the topic of nudity comes up.
 Nudity is not somthing that people can easily see eye to eye on."

 In this context, the true significance of Pranoto's paintings is caught up in the inexplicable
 dilemma artists have struggled with since earliest man first scrawled images of bison
 on cave walls-the eye of the beholder. As when Pablo Picasso was once asked how
 he knew when a painting was finished-he responded that a given work was never
 truly completed, that this was the task of the beholder- Pranoto invites the viewer to
 ponder both the aesthetic and existential import of what he paints.

       "Sleeping on Blue Flowers", 2001
Only God and Pranoto know why he focuses
 on nudes in his art. I only know that I learn
 something from his art.
 Nudity is never vulgar in his works. The nudity
 in Pranoto's paintings is not the kind that fishes
 for an erotic reaction.
 I find in Pranoto's nudes a specific artstic value;
 an aesthetic feeling that is not always easy to
 find in works by other artists.
 I believe that Pranoto elaborates on nudity on
 his canvasses to find something positive and
 meaningful; and he stands strong in
 that position. Pranoto's nudes, like the
 ubiquitous cats of Popo Iskandar and the suns
 and roosters Affandi repeatedly drew upon
 for inspiration, or Hendra Gunawan's colorful
 fish, are in part simply vehicles for the aesthetic
 concerns of the painterly mind: color, texture,
 composition, space and contour. Pranoto
 clearly delights in creatively playing with the
 textural possibilities inherent in the combination
 of unusual materials, such as floor tiles and
 tinted cement in the painting titled 
 "Two Women", or oil paint on sandpaper as
 in the work titled "Sleeping on Blue Flowers".

His concentrated focus on exploring the aesthetic potential of space, color and the
 contrast of light and dark is also immediately apparent in
 "Floating Light", a male nude done with soft pastel on deep
  green textured paper, and "Rest", a painting of an ambiguously
  androgynous figure reclining on a boulder

 Yet, Pranoto's nudes speak of much more than painterly preoccupations echoing
 out of the artist's eternal cry of, "What if-what if?" The choice of subject matter
 alone articulates an intense interest in the human psyche, in the inner being enfolded
 within the physical.

 As Yulianto Liestiono comments "Nudity is a very human condition, because there is
 no other creature that can be as truly naked as a human being". By depicting the models
 without the material attributes that define them specifically in the unspoken language of
 human society, Pranoto strips away the imposed trappings of class, social status and
occupation. He takes away the masks and allows a glimpse at the core of what it is to be human: to be separate and alone, to be fragile and vulnerable, to be mortal and transient.

 In the painting "Two Women", despite the proximity of the figures which are
 facing each other, a sense of alienation or lack of connection is conveyed.
 In "Floating Light", the contrast of light and dark in the background, as well
 as on the figure itself, and the body language of uncertainty and vulnerability.
 And in the work titled "Rest" the contrasting shades and textures of flesh and stone
 carry a feeling of the transience of human existence and experience.

 There is displayed in this exhibition a strong comprehension not only of how materials
 work together to achieve a particular visual impact, but also how visual images convey
 concepts that spoken words could never properly define.

 (Nudes by Pranoto at Galeri Milenium, Jl. RS Fatmawati No 15,
 South Jakarta, though June 30 from 10am to 8pm daily.)

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