Arguably one of the most relatable artists to ever grace the pages of Art Republik (our sister publication focused on art), Indonesian artist Iwan Suastika believes in an intertwined universe of beasts, nature, machines and humanity. Rooted in humble beginnings, Suastika is a heavily observative and reflective individual, who places great emphasis on upholding family values despite his rebellious and adventurous nature.
Through his work, Iwan Suastika aims to depict society through a multitude of idioms and metaphors — thus presenting the universe with an artistic mirror reflection of all existence.
You are seen as one of Indonesia’s most promising talent. Tell us more about your first steps as an artist?
Back in the old days when I was little, I drew a lot. I always imagined that the wall in my parents’ house was an infinite space that I could explore with crayons, pencils, ink or markers at any time. I drew everything, my parents often called my drawings weird creatures, and I loved it.
But, when I became a teenager, my drawing habits started to fade. I wanted art school but my parents told me to go to public school, they said after graduation I could go to art college. Of course I obeyed what my parents said, family first.
But I went through my school days lazily. I spent my teenage years hanging out with friends, having fun and being involved in school gangs. I became a rebel punk, was irresponsible, got into fights and was violent, almost dropped out of school, often get into trouble with the police, was jailed and so on. Then after graduating from high school, I decided I just wanted to go to an art college, I didn’t want anything else. Why? Because my second love was drawing (first was family of course) and only art was on my mind at that time.
Getting into the Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta changed everything in my life. It changed my perspective and the way I saw the world. I feel like I was born again. I learnt many things about art, technique, responsibility and even learned about life. I really like the atmosphere on campus, friends and the surrounding which was very competitive yet supportive. I chose Visual Communication Design as a major. During college I worked part-time as a designer, participated in several design competitions and won several awards — at that time my intention was simple, to get the prize to pay for my college. Throughout college I continued to progress, explore, learn and enjoy every second of the process. I have been actively participating in exhibitions since then.
And yeah… I keep making art, whatever it is, I really love it, it just flows until now.
Your art is vibrant with vivid colours and fantastical beasts in surreal landscapes, you also call yourself “Master of the Universe”. Tell us more about the “imagery” you are using and the hidden messages you seem to be trying to push across?
Yeah, I love colours, they represent us, they represent the world, they represent the universe. When I mix colours to create a painting, I feel like I’m blending differences into something harmonious. You know why? Because every colour matters. But sometimes I paint or draw monochromic, depending on my mood and you know that the world is sometimes shrouded in clouds and darkness.
Surrealism to me is an artistic space that is free for us to play without limits. I can create various shapes according to what I have in mind. Fantastical beasts, a man with a head of meat or moon or fire, and other strange creatures are symbols of reality that always appear in different forms in each of my works, depending on what ideas or issues I want to express.
In front of the canvas I always reflect, write mantras and dreams, see further about who I am, what happened in the past, the current environment, alongside social and societal conditions. All of that I pour in my surreal world. And in that world I always thought of the artwork as a big mirror that opens the horizon yet also serves as a bridge that provides options for various paths, straight, winding, incline, and intersectional, amongst others.
Oh yeah, it’s “I am the universe” not “master of the universe”. I think everything in life is connected. Me and the water, air, rain, fire, bugs, leaves, newborn babies and everything else in between. I always thought that when I shot my head and died, it was the same as killing the people around me, whether it was killing their affection or killing the lives of those who previously needed my existence.
Likewise, when I hurt this universe, it is the same as cutting off part of my age and even the ages of all beings on this planet. Actually the concept is simple, and it taught me to always be humble, full of love, respect, appreciation, and gratitude, while being able to see everything from more than one perspective. I am the universe, you are the universe, we are the universe.
How important was the recognition of your talent in 2014 when you won the UOB Painting of the Year Silver Award (Indonesia)?
It was quite important and a pretty good experience in my art journey. Some people now know me through my work which had won awards at the event. Fun fact: When the awards ceremony started, I was asleep in the hotel, because the night before I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to draw all night long until the sun rose.
Then when I came to the venue the event was over, and the committee was very mad with me, because everyone didn’t know who received the award. [Laughs] My bad, but other than that it was cool. Peace.
You are always looking for new techniques in your art. How would you describe your style?
I love exploring techniques, and also trying out new media. I think it’s challenging, and I like challenges. Because I think art is an adventure, every step is full of surprises and different challenges. One stroke to another stroke will always be different every time I start painting. Every second is something new. But in the end, technique is just a technique. What is most important to me is taste, soul, and identity.
If you look at the visuals of my work, you will find various symbols there. I like to speak through symbols, it makes it easier for me to express feelings or something through visual language. Besides, maybe because I also studied visual communication. I also like to work with idioms and metaphors as well.
I love seeing the way people guess what my artwork means and their curiosity, it’s interesting. Besides that, I also like to travel in the surreal world that I create, chatting with the small details in every corner of the artwork I make.
What is your creative process like? Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration can come from anywhere — from society, the environment, from conversations, movies, music, comics, books and others. Sometimes it just appears in my mind, running around inside my head. I have to immediately pour it into a sketch, write it on paper or notepad on my smartphone, or also immediately pour all the ideas on the canvas.
I mostly work by adjusting my mood, my feeling and my mind, sometimes in the middle of work, I might change the picture if it doesn’t suit my mood or my thoughts because sometimes my ideas run faster than my hands.
Besides that, like I said before, I am always reflecting, so I can see my identity deeper. I was born in a village in Yogyakarta, which is known as the village of batik craftsmen, called the Tamansari Village. Some of my uncles are batik craftsmen, they make everything from hand-written batik to painted batik.
Every time I visit their house, I am always impressed with their work, and that impression remains until now. As seen in several of my works, I often include batik elements in it.
What is the role an artist plays in society?
I believe that artists have an important role in society, they create souls, create emotions. Who doesn’t need soul and emotion in this world? Especially in a world that contains machines that work very fast and measure everything with numbers.
Artists provide the option of seeing things from a different perspective and also provide questions that need to be pondered; give marks in every era and often in their works contain history and knowledge. Seeing and observing the development of an artist’s work of art for me is the same as reading the phenomena along with situations and conditions that occur to the artist, the environment, the society, the country and even the world from time to time.
Any current or past Indonesian artists who has influenced you?
My artistic process, or in my art journey, all the artists I have seen based on their artwork or known personally, always inspire me. From young artists to established artists, I learned from everyone and everything, whether it’s good or what people think is bad.
How do you view the current art scene in Indonesia? How important is the space given to artists in modern Indonesian society?
Currently, the art scene in Indonesia is developing pretty well. Moreover, the digital era which supports the exchange of information is very fast and easy. In my opinion, this has a big influence on the development of art in Indonesia today. Art has become a lifestyle and a trend, which is a good thing, but it becomes uninteresting, boring and weak if measuring the quality and existence of an artist with his work is based solely on numbers and blue tick marks on his social media accounts.
Apart from that, in Indonesia, art and culture must continue to receive full support from the government. The government should give support to the local artist and all the art ecosystem. They should also build more and more art infrastructure. Of course, to create a good and developing art ecosystem, the role of art appreciators, galleries, curators, and others is also important. We need to support each other, both young and established Indonesian artists.
In modern Indonesian society, artists have a significant space, because art speaks louder. Art gives rest and breath in this complex modern life. Almost all sectors and industries now need artists and works of art.
The five words that best describe your art?
Surreal, reflection, love, identity, happy & sad.
In which city can we expect to see your next solo exhibition?
In Yogyakarta city, 2021, at KinikoArt gallery.
Where can we see some of you work online and are they for sale?
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
Everyone I have met inspires and influences my “artventures” in this art world.