What is the meaning of color to a visual artist? Does color promise only one meaning, the way it can under an authoritarian regime? In the past, artists in Indonesia went through a prolonged all-yellow period. In that time, color was subdued by a monotony of meaning; even quietly subsumed by a hegemony of meaning through the ideologization of color.
But the days of ‘yellow-ization
’ are gone, and artists who like to use certain colors, including yellow, feel more free to express things. Soni Irawan, for one, believes that yellow does not stand for one kind of human feeling only. He interprets yellow as a mellow mood. His work no longer rehashes the age of ‘yellow-ization’—he seems rather to assume that any kind of violence or ideologization would lead to some sort of a protracted rush of noise.
Soni's yellow-background paintings and drawings in his current exhibition at the Kendara Gallery
in Bali generally bring observers to a groundless atmosphere. This does not mean that he wants to overturn the figures in his works, to give an impression of hovering, never touching ground; or to push his fantasies to the extreme, to get out of describing reality. His images are see-through, presenting gaps, or zones that gape like open windows.
But this is no metaphysics of what “is” on the other side. The voids, holes, or translucencies in Soni's works are drawing which ask: where is the background and where is the foreground? Soni strikes through and overwrites the drawings which are to function as backgrounds, like overly long stories in need of editing. But striking through is not the same as total annihilation; all the ‘files’ that don't count are not tossed in the wastebin, but remain on the drawing table. This generates a noisy, dense, and, at the same time, floating atmosphere in Soni's pictures.
His drawing style freely “violates” the surface, reminding at once of the artistic tags used by graffiti “bombers” in urban settings.
Soni does not primarily paint individual figures, but rather their moods, allusions or allegorical circumstances. He says that his works generally depict the discomforts of life around him—in a mellow manner and style. In that way he aims to be gentler and more tolerant towards the situation, without screaming or emitting cries. This is not some kind of abstracted, unempathic style, but a moody sort of subjectivization, following the highs and lows of inner mood. In this exhibition Soni presents his most recent paintings and drawings (2012) along with some everyday object findings he has arranged into installation works.
Aside from being known as a young artist in touch with new trends in the style or fashion subcultures of Yogya, Soni Irawan is also known through the Indie group he co-founded in 1999, Seek Six Sick
. The group's first hit was "Antimacho Rockstar
." If mellow is defined by ‘anti violence,’ then the management of noise becomes an experiment in sounds, including mellow ones. It is there, in Soni Irawan's artistry and sensibility, that the two domains meet.
In a time when people criticize cultures for being homogeneous or uniform, people want to know what the world of sub-cultures has to show. However, as Dick Hebidge once wrote, “the challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent is not issued directly by them . . .The objections are lodged, the contradictions displayed . . . at the profoundly superficial level of appearances: that is, at the level of signs. For the sign community ... is not a uniform body.”
Soni Irawan was born in Yogyakarta on 15 January 1975 where he has lived ever since. He studied fine art at the Faculty of Graphic Arts
at Institut Seni Indonesia (the Indonesian Art Institute)
He was a winner of The Best Five Phillip Morris Indonesian Art Award (2011)
and has worked on a number of mural art projects and workshops. This exhibition at Kendra Gallery
is his third one-man exhibition. Except when he is actively making art, Soni and Seek Six Sick
are frequently invited to perform in cities around Indonesia.
An exhibition of works by Soni Irawan
Kendra Gallery of Contemporary Art
Jl. Drupadi 88 Basangkasa
Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia
February 18 – March 18, 2012
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