An Article on John Martono, Indonesian Silk Artist

An Article on John Martono, Indonesian Silk Artist

John will be featured in “Urban Amazons and other Eclecticities” a group exhibition. Opening night is March 6 2014 at Tusk Gallery. 438 Chapel St, South Yarra
613 9827333. John will be travelling to Australia from Indonesia to attend the opening.
RSVP southyarra@tuskgallery.com.au
Click on the image to see a short Youtube clip on John’s amazing artwork.

In the arena of Indonesian contemporary art, silk as a painting medium is yet to be widely explored. This creates a twist of irony since silk as an art material originates in the very continent of Asia. During the past ten years, John Martono, who graduated from Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology, majoring in Textile Design, has been filling this void in the genre.
His educational background in the Faculty of Art and Design emphasizes on formal aspects in the creation of an artwork. This formalisme nullifies representation. The canvas is a flat plane, an arena where an artist explores intrinsic natural shapes. In this respect, as an aesthetic school developing since the 1950s, formalism erases the narrative aspect of creation. The work becomes a creation that emphasizes merely on a value system in order to buil harmony, impression of flexibility or hardness, contrast through composition of textures, shapes, lines, brush strokes, – namely the formal aspects of art. As a proponent of the 90s generation, John Martono absorbed this experience in his almamater.
This exhibition displays his nearly 10-year journey in exploring silk, both synthetic and natural. Not only does he paint in silk, he also adds weaves on silk, giving it rich textures and in some cases: building certain images and associations. Composed in bright colors –the psychedelic “colors of the 70s” as he called them- John’s silk paintings are produced through a series of unique creative processes. He rejoices through these processes while listening to the blues, his favorite music, his “vitamin,” said John. At some other time, these creative processes are also offered as an art project involving the general public. Up to this point, John has been tolerant in doing unique collaborations.
On his 10-year experience in the creative field of silk exploration, John had this to say:
“I have been participating in fiber art exhibitions since 1995. I am still an active participant in the fiber category until now. Up to 2008, I was more into weaving and exploration of fabric production. From 2009 onwards, I began serious experiments in paintings that utilize silk’s transparency combined with manual stitching. This is a pretty much marginalized job in contemporary art. I truly understand this because this also happens on a global scale. It is difficult for fabrics or textiles to be considered as a medium for expression.”
John felt how his artistic instinct that is more akin to fine art, went into a halt since John from a design major. He tried to break on through to the other side for an opportunity that would free him from the strict rules. “There were those who disagreed with the novel category “expressive weaving,” but I kept soldiering on. My experience in the textile studio exerts a very powerful influence. The wealth of ornaments, the abundance of patterns are well-utilized to express what I wish,” he said.
John Martono was raised in an environment that allowed a conducive artistic climate to flourish. His parents supported his artistic activities wholeheartedly. “At one time, father and his friends worked on a freedom fighter statue as part of the Independence Day decoration. It left a lasting impression on me,” John said. Fueled by the conducive climate, his creativity soared. “The interplay of threads on the colored surface of both painted and unpainted silk is in itself a daring exploration. What is attractive me, is that in creating using this medium, I have to be able imagine or predict how it will turn out, especially when I combine woven threads, silk colors and surface fiber of a fabric.”

Since 2012, his style of painting, known for its bright colors, have been changing. John started experimenting with simple colors: black, white and shades of gray produced through the combination of the first two aforementioned colors. John is now free in deciding his choice of art study continuation. “One thing for sure is that I love drawing and I wanted to enroll in a fine art major. But destiny had its way. I was admitted into the department of design.”
When he was in high school, he participated in an exhibition held by Sanggar Olah Seni, a studio led by Tony Jusuf, former member of the group Seniman Indonesia Muda, which was founded in 1946. Tony had learned to paint from S. Sudjojono. “It was at the Sanggar I was told that ITB has its own department of art,” said John.
It is difficult for John to move away from the fibers that have contributed certain characters to his recent work. Black and white are usually not among the most popular colors used by painters. However, in these colors, John finds his own pleasure. He keeps on exploring and chartings the depths of their effects. “The simpler the colors, the more complex the experience,” John stated. His works now seem to have a wider horizon. John comprehends this “paradoxical” experience and he enjoys in. In general, John’s paintings reflect his spiritual experience. Not only do they represent happy and pleasureable moments, but they also depict hurtful experiences. Amidst these experiences, John retreats into meditation.
“Creating is praxis of finding sublimity. It seems to “control” us to stay on consciousness, even though it will eventually lead us to another dimension of madness.” In paiting, John displays images of objects that have undergone abstraction. These objects, however, are not merely scratches or strokes devoid of rationale. John realizes that abstraction is part of the manifestation of the sub-conscious which he absorbs from his observation of daily life. A number of his works could lead us to impression of vastness, dynamics in space and sensibility of depth through layers of colors. We are invited to his personal fantasies: desire and hope. His black-and-white silk painting series at a glance constructs a wavy “sullen” nuance. If observed closely, the paintings in this series are not fully abstract. In some parts, we encounter images of sea creatures. Recognizing the presence of those creatures will, arguably, influence our perception in appreciating the paintings. John anticipates this by emphasizing on the richer pleasure of appreciation. “The presence of these creatures might be realized or not by the observer. However, it will not influence his or her process of appreciation.”
In painting, abstraction derives or departs from the reality of the images depicted in art. The result of abstraction often leaves an authentic reference to the reality. On the other hand, the essence of the colors implied in abstract painting are believed to be able to incite specific emotional reaction. John’ paintings spans at the interval between these two convictions, although his paintings seem to attempt at outdoing the aesthetic achievement of abstract painting as dictated by the history of art. In this respect, John wishes to outdo the usual representation of abstraction in painting. This is evident in John attempting to free himself from the lyrical abstract painting and move on to other directions that offer many possibilities.
The first character that an observer immediately recognizes from John’s paintings is his usage of colors. At first we might think that the dramatic brush strokes on silk act the same as the brush strokes on canvas. There is, however, a telling difference. Color strokes on silk move around more freely and at times result in unpredictable effects. John realizes that he can employ the sensation meticulously.
Painting on silk brings about its own sensation and uniqueness. The activity may result in variation of light and darkness by combining strokes without sudden contrasts. The silk painter faces a transparent flat plane, that needs to be conquered. The painter has to be clever in facing the varied degrees of flatness –the distinct gradation of light and darkness. The pigments of the paint seep into the large pores and its density may be shaped in such a way to break away from the common standards of abstract painting on canvas. John is a silk painter that is highly experienced in this process, making it easy to personally connect to the medium.
Last but not least, this exhibition is expected to fill in the near-absence of silk painting in this country. And John Martono is a silk painting force to be reckoned with. The pioneerings steps he is doing today are opening new opportunities for other artists to explore silk painting in the future.

Aminudin TH Siregar
Bandung, November 2013
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To see the full range of John Martono’s works available at Tusk Gallery please click the following link: http://www.tuskgallery.com.au/artist/john-martono/

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