The AndrewShire Gallery in Los Angeles's Koreatown is a rather unexpected pocket of art appreciation, situated a few dozen feet from fine eating establishments such as Mr. Pizza or Soju Town. But upon entrance into the gallery, all reservations about its drab exterior are replaced by the understated, thoughtfully curated exhibits inside.
Currently three artists of Southeast origin are on display in a show entitled "Humanities." Ben Cabrera, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, and Putu Sutawijaya, are artists located in the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia respectively. Though they all come from the same corner of the world, each of the three artists has a different story to tell.
Ben Cabrera -- or "BenCab" as he signs his work -– toys with the human body as a concrete or abstract object. In the clear realism of Golden Shower (2009), he paints women cowering from monsoons, subject to natural elements and disasters. Then within the same year, he produces work of an entirely different style, such as in Three Women (2009), in which three females morph into one amorphous swirl of shawls and thick brushstrokes. Under the heavy drapery, the women of Cabrera's painting lose their bodily forms to the movement of the cloth.
The duality of Cabrera's interests is most clearly observed in his Concealed & Revealed (2009) series, in which two identically posed figures are presented side by side. One of these bodies is mostly or completely obscured under folds of cloth, while the other is completely naked. The woman depicted on the left is abstracted and hidden, while the one on the right is realistic and exposed. Cabrera's work not only reflects his fascination with a thesis and its antithesis, but also the new ideas that synthesize between two opposites when they are introduced into a dialogue with each other.
Ahmad Zakii Anwar also explores duality in his paintings, but the conflict he dissects is the one between a human body that is simultaneously fixed in its anatomy and fluid in its mentality. In a video interview during which Anwar uses his pant leg as a palette, Anwar merrily weighs the vacillations between order and chaos that humans navigate on a daily basis. His philosophical musings manifest in his paintings through a unique method: he renders an adult male body with impeccable technique, then quickly glazes over the pristine body with flitting brushstrokes as seen in Reclining Figure 4 (2009).
Anwar's purposeful imperfections are also a literal illustration of his religious contemplations. He is not fully comfortable with too much abstraction of the human body because he sees the figure as an image of the divine. Taking too many liberties with it would be blasphemous. So Anwar purposefully breaks up the body with subtle maneuvers that flatter his subjects more than it distracts, all as a way to portray the chaos that is experienced by those who are not privy to the grand design. For really in the end, "It's really about submitting and conforming to the ideal."
Putu Sutawijaya is not so concerned with expressing opposites in his paintings, as he is with exposing the passions and pains of humans that dwell behind the veneer of "ornamental bodies." Sutawijaya prefers to paint "real bodies" that betray the myriad of emotions a person can experience, with vivid colors, gestural lines, and exaggerated limbs. Such a "real body" can be seen in Balance II (2009), in which a Christ-like figure is shown with his arms bent in such an impossible angle that its implied physical pain is enough to convey a sense of excruciating emotional agony.
For Sutawijaya, a body is more than a collection of flesh, blood, and skin -- it also stands for thoughts, beliefs, and passions. Similarly in Dominasi Terdominasi (2009), chairs are more than a few slabs of wood. They become "man-made devices that are used for power," referring to the bureaucracies and titles that often mask the incompetency and corruption of government systems. Sutuwijaya's hunched figures in Dominasi Terdominasi betray his distrust in politicians, perhaps in entire authoritative systems that governs its subjects without concern for each of its members. For the artist, this is what art is ultimately about: the crystallization of an individual voice amidst a sea of others.
The artists of "Humanities" each explore the human body's abilities to convey their respective messages, whether it is to express humans' relationships with nature, with the divine, or with each other. Though Ben Cabrera, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, and Putu Sutawijaya all chose the figure as their featured subject, the stories these artists have to tell and the methods with which they tell it are each so stunningly distinct that the show at AndrewShire Gallery is a tour of many schools of art, thought, and style. From the technical renderings of Anwar, to the abstractions of Sutawijaya, to the deliberate juxtaposition of the two extremes in Cabrera's work, the human figure is stretched and examined in "Humanities" with undeniable thought, care, and beauty.
"Humanities" is on display at the AndrewShire Gallery in Los Angeles until November 21st, 2009. For more information, go to the gallery's official website here.