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Gatot Pujiarto: Instill Soul Into the Picture

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“I usually create deformative shapes, which I use to incite emotions. That way, the picture has some soul,” stated Indonesian artist Gatot Pujiarto, who is about to have his first solo exhibition in Shanghai. Originally trained as a painter, Pujiarto’s early paintings and paper collages were highly expressive in their attempt to bring out a variety of emotions, especially in his rendering of distorted human faces, whether he was painting his own portrait or his friends. He has continued this expressiveness in his works today, which are usually narrative driven; there are different flows of energy that he wishes to activate in his images to, as he puts it, give the picture some soul. Indeed, there is a liveliness in Pujiarto’s oeuvre as seen through the evolution of his figurative works and development of large-scale abstract tapestry pieces. 


It is worth noticing how Pujiarto’s approach to portraying different faces has evolved from his own portraits and his Face series from 2007 onwards with the intention of digging beneath the surface and going beyond what is directly sensed. In the Face series, Pujiarto began to use newspaper or magazine paper collage together with sweeping brushstrokes to outline the simplified and deformed contours of his subject. Tense and turbulent emotions and states—such as anger, fear, irony, and pain—were still quite restrained, but one could see that the inclusion of collage aided his expression or, to be more specific, it built up the tension with multiple layers to create abstract or deformed images. Tension That Has Not Disappeared 2 is a sculpture of a head with thread and fabric sewn around an iron skeleton to “sculpt” different parts of the head in exaggerated shapes. Pujiarto also tried to portray his subject through mixed media paintings with one or two figures standing out from a single-colour background. In these paintings, pieces of rags were carefully arranged and pasted to create colour and forms to lead to a specific sensation. The process, which Pujiarto still uses today, is very similar to how a painter works, but he “paints” with thread and fabric.


Something Must Be Possessed2008, Textile and thread on doth laid on canvas, 145 x 180 cm


Pujiarto began to use textiles, which is his main medium, in his works after visiting local clothing factories and seeing the leftover fabric. He finds inspiration from wandering around local markets; in the paddy field of his hometown of Malang, East Java; or visiting his friends, neighbours, and fellow artists. In a short documentary film, he explained, “Shapes and colours I see in those places often trigger my imagination. They stimulate me to express these artistic shapes and colours in my works, and they sometimes even trigger my memories of artistic experiences from the past.” Perhaps it was not a coincidence for him to have discovered the extra fabric for use as his artistic medium considering the malleability of the soft material, making it well suited to telling stories and increasing the emotional intensity of his works.


Royalty, 2015, Canvas, textile, acrylic, thread, 200 x 150 cm

Something Must Be Possessed is inspired by what authoritative figures could be. Pujiarto explained, “In some cases, people lose their conscience and behave cruelly; sometimes, they even see people as objects and take control of them.” The artist depicts the sensations of cruelty and obsession through his image-making with textile collage. Similarly, Pujiarto conveys feelings of arrogance and indifference in Royalty by stitching a hollow face and elongating the body. Meanwhile, Pretender depicts a solemn seated figure who is apparently in pain. Furthermore, the artist creates movement or a flow of emotions through figures interacting with one another, such as in the works Helping The Hero and Playboy, which express a sense of irony and sarcasm. 


Helping The Hero, 2009, Canvas, textile, thread, 150 x 200 cm

However, in some of the later works, Pujiarto gradually neutralizes the emotional or metaphorical specificity with a strong sense of stillness: it could be calmness resulting from self-introspection, as in the works Dialogue with the Self and Meditation, or it could be from the balance of a diverse range of combined techniques, such as painting, paper collage, and textile collage. Machine Man and Strange Creature are two recent works in the exhibition that were created with different techniques that support a shift from focusing on specific narratives to addressing more universal topics. Machine Man calls for people to be more present and conscious of their surroundings; it warns of the tendency of humans to act like robots. The work is composed of pasted magazine paper that outlines a dark head with a numb state of mind. The irregular distribution of stitches is most likely used to illuminate the numbness and not to strengthen the pasted paper. Meanwhile, the artist developed the visual arrangement of Strange Creature without any narrative in mind. Pieces of fabric are sewn, patched, braided, and hung from the surface of the canvas in their own rhythms. The result is something self-generated rather than predetermined.  

 Machine Man, 2019, Canvas, paper magazine,thread, 200 x 150 cm


Pujiarto’s recent works gradually peel away the specific narratives seen in his earlier works, leaving the titles merely as openings for audiences to understand universal social issues. Having worked with fabric, thread, and paint on canvas for many years, the artist started to produce large-scale tapestry work in 2011 after his residency in Bandung, which was an experience that heavily influenced his artistic practice later on. With titles that point to specific themes, these works are by no means descriptive or representative. 


Pujiarto wishes to reveal more future-oriented and imaginative situations in his works that diverge from actual or predictable events. Instead of representations, these works are a result of the artist devoting himself to an enduring temporal openness in which he has to disappear to give rise to what could possibly emerge. His latest works feature fabric that has been torn to pieces, patched, and sewn in layers; wild brushstrokes; dripping paint, scribbles; as well as distorted forms. All of Pujiarto’s bodily movements not only serve as challenges to the artist, but also defy what is commonly perceived and envisioned.  


Strange Creature and a few featured tapestry works in this exhibition, such as Diseased Earth 1 and 2, are similar in that they depict a future that can be prevented. The latter works portray the potential damage to the planet from neglect and abuse of natural resources with no trace of human lives. They feature thickly braided fabric rolls that wind across the works’ surface and dripping cloth tendrils. Besides tearing apart the entire tapestry, Pujiarto has resewn and braided the edges of the ruptures, leaving interspersed holes filled with layered patches. His recent tapestry works tend to echo with more abstract and unknown sensations, as they are created with a combination of different skills and movements—tearing, layering, patching, binding, and sewing—which serve to free the mind of any preconceived notions. In the double canvas works in this exhibition, Hurt Communities, Torn Green Lands, and Below Zero Degrees Celsius, it is obvious that these works have evolved beyond the artist’s own narrations and what emerges are trauma and scars shed in a new light.   


Hurt Communities, 2019 , Canvas, silicon, acrylic, textile, thread, 200 x 150 cm


Beyond Image and Dreams

Artist: Gatot Pujiarto

VernissageSaturday, 7 September, 2019, 5–7pm

Dates|8 September – 1 November, 2019, 10:30am-7pm
Venue|G/F, 181 Middle Jiangxi Road, Shanghai, China

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