Sunaryo: Poetry of Inner Dreams

Materiality and spirituality are twin aspects characterising Sunaryo’s practice. His aesthetic formulation – a fusion of Eastern philosophies, Javanese traditions and Western modernity, transmutes itself to his works. Sunaryo exudes the aura of a shaman, faith healer and philosopher, where the search for self and meaning are themes surfacing in this body of works of 46 unique works on paper, and three edition prints. Sunaryo’s six-week residency at STPI have produced an astonishing volume of works – characterised by dense textures and bold colours that bear his inscrutable imagery of his thumb print impression.

If Sunaryo’s endeavour at the STPI were to be faulted for want of variety and adventure, the outcome of his residency should hold a few surprises for the observers of his oeuvre. Recognised to be one of the founding figures of Indonesian Contemporary art, Sunaryo is well known for his paintings of Indonesian themes, such as Balinese dancers and barongs (masked dancers who symbolise the “spirit king”) and his artworks that reflected the social and environmental issues of modern Indonesia transformative years. Sunaryo cites his coming of age that triggered his questioning of self-definition and began his self-discovery by re-looking at imprints of Indonesian cultural identity and that of his own.

Sunaryo fascination with what he regards as the inherent symbol of one’s identity, led him to probe further into the enigma of the humble thumb print impression. His magnified portrayals of the thumb print, transform this diminutive threshold of coded secrets into monumental visual statements. STPI’s Chief printmaker Eitaro Ogawa found “the simplicity of the idea refreshing” and added, “The thumbprint is a primitive way of making prints. If you look at history, there are instances where hand imprints can be found, such as in wall paintings discovered in prehistoric caves.”

Making explorations on his cultural identity, Sunaryo employs the traditional Batik design elements and re-creates these prints without following its convention. The process of re-working these motifs relates to his idea that culture is constantly evolving and undergoes an artificial process. Master papermaker at the STPI, Richard Hungerford said that, “while batik designs are stamp-specific and relate to practical elements of the imagery, Sunaryo is using the stamps out of context, internalising the batik stain as the paper was developed.”

The arsenal of textures in these works reminds us of Sunaryo’s sensitivity and skill brought about by his sculptural sensibility. Sunaryo layered and smeared daring cocktails of crimsons and black paint with expressive intensity, incorporated sgraffito painting processes to give added dimension to his line drawings and affixed sculptural bamboo formations into the paper base; thus pushing the materiality of the medium and paper further.

Sunaryo works are freely improvised, intuitive affairs created in the spirit of self searching. For Sunaryo the identity he aspired, exist only in a poetic realm, one in which colour and form serve as analogues for psychological and emotional states. ‘Poetry of Inner Dreams’ is truly the artist’s lyrical evocation of a contemplative moment.