“It doesn’t really make sense to make painting this way,” said Dutch-Indo-American artist, Adam de Boer, of his batik paintings that are currently showing at Gajah Gallery until 19 March. “It takes a lot of time. The colour’s off because I use acrylic paint instead of dyes. But once I found these materials—the tjanting, the wax—they immediately speak to me.”
Curated by Liza Markus, who’s been exposed to Adam’s work since 2020, the selected works in his first Jakarta solo exhibition, ‘Littoral Images: Metaphors and Footnotes from the Shore’ function almost like puzzle pieces, piecing together stories and references from literary works and Adam’s overlapping observations and imagination that indirectly links to his family’s diasporic history.
Spanning works from 2014, the series of paintings with white-grid-like borders from the batik wax exhibits Adam’s progression as an artist and how he has developed the medium and made it his own. For instance, at the back of the room, the two-sided ‘Room Screen for Magio Bin Suyeb’ (2018) blends the artist’s interpretation of the novel ‘Lelaki Harimau’ by Eka Kurniawan as well as a reference to the taxidermied white tiger in Baturraden, Purwokerto, which was also the birthplace of his father.
Framed in hand-carved teakwood, the portrait of the tiger was done using acrylic and oil paint on hand-carved cowhide, a method similar to wayang-making. On the other side, a serene black and blue-grey landscape reflects his experience at Mount Kidul in Jogja combined with an imagined cliffside overlooking the Indian ocean—where the main character of ‘Lelaki Harimau’, Margio, went into hiding.
Elsewhere, Adam also references and in a sense, ‘rewrites’ works by other travelling artists like Paul Gauguin’s portrait of his muse and lover, ‘Annah The Javanese’, who left him and stole all his possessions. In Adam’s version, Annah is seen sitting in the same blue upholstered chair, meeting the eyes of the audience. But this time, the background reveals an imagined sunset on a beach in Nusa Tenggara Timur, suggesting that she had settled there.
The soft pink and tangerine sunset backdrop also made it into a painting of its own, ‘Long Days Wane’ (2022), which was also inspired by Anthony Burgess’ 1964 trilogy of the same title, a fictional piece that is set amidst the decolonisation of Malaya.
Close to the entrance, as both beginning and end, his most recent work features renderings of his Los Angeles home. In ‘Ambling Along the Tropic of Orange’ (2022), mundane and familiar sights from his neighbourhood—graffiti walls, a woman walking her dog and ongoing roadworks—are painted using the same wax technique, but distinctly more confident and natural compared to earlier works.
Even in isolation, one could immerse themselves in these paintings and marvel at the details and colour bleeds that appear to be bordered by the wax lines. But seen as a whole, the exhibition echoes a deeper sentiment of a globalised cultural identity.
Though he’s shifted his gaze from the more traditional and nostalgic Javanese subject matters to Western urban landscapes, the technique is something he is continuing to develop and sharpen in his L.A. studio. “I haven’t been back in Indonesia in over five years, but there’s something about batik that stuck with me.”
‘Littoral Images: Metaphors and Footnotes from the Shore’ by Adam de Boer is running from February 26 to March 19, 2023 at Gajah Gallery. For more details, click here.