Indonesian artist Roby Dwi Antono is known for his rich, smooth, color-infused brushstrokes depicting a myriad of symbolic icons. His work opens a portal to another universe where spaceships, aliens, dinosaurs and creatures with humanly features come together. These surrealistic creations that once lived only in Dwi Antono’s imagination come to life in a new realm on his canvas.
Roby Dwi Antono’s work is often referred to as a contemporary juxtaposition of Surrealism and Classical Renaissance imagery. He has been featured both in Indonesia and internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Recently, I caught up with Roby and had the chance to talk about his current works and his artistic process in creating his masterpieces.
Rom Levy: To begin, can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Roby Dwi Antono: I was fairly introverted, never really liked crowds and always preferred to spend time alone. I am quite grateful to be blessed with a gift in visual language. I knew early on that verbal communication is simply not my forte. Ever since I was a kid, visual art has always been the language I was the most fluent in and comfortable with. I am lucky to have parents who never seemed to mind that walls of the house were covered with doodles. I am aware that I cannot always expect everybody to understand me through paintings, but expressing myself with a brush proves to be cathartic. I have never experienced a formal art education. Just self-taught. I currently live and work in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
As a self-taught artist, what challenges did you face as you were developing your style and practice?
Throughout the decade of being an artist, my style evolved in line with my experiences, references, and environment. The challenges I encountered are more about ideas and themes. I don’t think I’m a critical and sensitive artist and i prefer to create works with my themes.
As a Yogyakartan, how is your relation to the local street art culture ?
Honestly, I’m not really into the local street-art culture. I’m well aware that I don’t get along very easily with people.
I especially loved your latest mural, do you have any upcoming murals project planned?
Thank you! For now, I have no upcoming plans to work on a mural project in the near future. But of course, if there is an opportunity to join in on a big mural project, I would love to take it.
What does a day in the studio with Roby look like?
The daily atmosphere in my studio is ordinary, nothing too special. Every morning I wake up and start my day by making tea or coffee, cleaning, and arranging things in my studio. Then I prepare materials such as canvas, paint, and so on, I set a playlist to create the mood and start painting until the afternoon. I am more comfortable working from morning to evening. After that, I can rest and relax by watching movies or browsing social medias.
How does your work relate to art history?
I haven’t thought about that too much.
How do you start your paintings? Do you begin with sketches, or do you paint directly onto the canvas?
Yes, I usually start by making lots of sketches on paper or digitally, then select the best sketch to transfer to the canvas using the projector or grid method. Although right now I’m working on a new series of paintings with quite a different technique, I’m trying to paint straight to the canvas directly.
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Where does your inspiration come from?
I have always found it easier to pick up inspirations from my past experiences as it helps me approach my paintings with a sense of truth. My works are like a mirror in which I see a reflection of myself. Very often it is where I would criticize the errors of my past self as well as create hope for my future self. I enjoy challenging myself to create works that can trigger an emotional response from other people. All of this is part of the human experience that affects the concept and visual aspects of my works.
Who are the characters in your paintings?
They are part of my beliefs, imagination, and fragments of memories that I manifest in visual form.
What would you say are the most prominent features in the characters you create?
The most notable feature of my characters is their piercing gaze and dreamlike appearance. In my paintings, I use soft colors which nevertheless evoke an eerie sense of ambiguity.
Most of your subjects have captivating gazes, is there a reason you give a lot of attention to their eyes?
Because in my opinion, the eyes are the soul. We can see and feel the soul and personality of a person from the gaze and expression of the eyes.
Some of your paintings create a whole universe, while some focus on one specific character. Is there is a reason why you choose to focus on one at times and an immense scenery at other times?
Well, it’s true. Some of my paintings create a whole universe, while some focus on one specific character. It all depends on the idea that I want to convey through the work. Sometimes an idea is more suitable to be translated into a minimalist work with a focus on one character. It becomes more calm but powerful. And sometimes there’s also the idea that it would be cool if he was surrounded by an immense scenery. However, I like both. Each has its own impact and strength.
I am interested in the ephemerality of paintings, do you view your own work as precious? If you are unhappy with a work, do you tend to destroy it or would you rather put it in storage for a while and alter them at a later date?
Yes, I do. If I am unhappy with a piece, I would rather put it in storage and alter them at a later date. Sometimes the work that I make and do not like now will look great when I saw it after 5 years. It’s a bit strange and I do not know the cause.
What do you aspire for, and where do you see yourself and your practice in the coming years?
Honestly, I never thought about it. I’m trying to focus and enjoy what I’m doing right now.
How did you be keeping yourself busy this Summer Season?
I was busy working on the paintings for an upcoming exhibition. Stay tuned!