Interview with Roby Dwi Antono for ‘Epos’

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Epos’ from surrealist painter Roby Dwi Antono who is based out of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. His visual language forms connections between classical renaissance paintings, futurism, and fantasy, drawing inspiration from science fiction and natural history.

In anticipation of ‘Epos’, our interview with Roby Dwi Antono dives into how he utilizes vague memories of the past for inspiration and translating abstract thought into cohesive compositions.

Please note English is not Roby Dwi Antono’s first language and the interview has been left mostly unedited to keep the integrity of the artist’s voice.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background?

My interest in art has been around since I was a kid. Of course, at that time I didn’t understand what art was. I just love scribbling the walls of my house. And it was still well preserved until I was in high school. I studied art, but not from formal education. So you could say I was self-taught. I’m not an academic. After graduating from high school, I decided to work as a layout designer for a printing/advertising company. My job is to prepare everything that will go through the printing process. In 2011 I moved to work at the school yearbook company.  I am working on the page layout design and also the illustration for the cover. I developed my skill manual or digital. Learn and practice using Adobe Photoshop for making digital illustrations or photo manipulation. Because of my childhood interest in the world of drawing, I still take the time to make drawings on paper and digital drawings between working hours. In my spare time, before starting or after finishing work in this office, I am used to working in an idealistic way. Then I get more serious about continuing to study arts. Almost every morning before starting work, I make a drawing in my sketchbook, a kind of visual diary. Then I posted my picture on my personal blog and Facebook (at that time there was no Instagram) haha. Then in 2012, I got an offer to present my work in a solo exhibition at a new small artspace in Yogyakarta. I show my little drawings here. From this show, there are appreciations from visitors for my work. Some of my works began to be collected by young collectors.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes and ideas/idioms were you exploring?

This exhibition is my attempt to visit the memories that appear on the surface to dive into those buried deep in the bottom. It is not an easy thing to retrieve all memories, gather and organize them in a neat and timely order when they were born. Pieces of memory scattered in the middle of the map were piled up in the corner of the room. Maybe they really are not forced to be sequential and trace but random and not even traceable. The past that can be both good and bad.

EPOS is a kind of traditional literary work that tells stories of heroism. These epics are often stated in verse. Some examples of famous epics are Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. There is always balance, good and bad. Of course my childhood heroes were fictional 90’s characters. They are the things that provide a strong emotional bond. Whenever I feel lonely and have bad events, their presence will give me peace. Sometimes I even wish to be them.

Past memories are very influential in this creation process. Childhood figures that are deeply imprinted in emotional memories will be very interesting for me to re-draw into the work. There are many characters that I remember from various movies or cartoon series (Japanese and American) when I was a child. Like, for example, the old-school Kaiju in the Ultraman or Godzilla/Dinosaurs series. I think the kaiju have a strange physical form, they are like created from several combined creatures, whether animals or plants are modified into one whole creature which in my opinion is a pretty cool thing.

In this effort to dive into memories, I chose to try to look back one by one in the past from simple, trivial, and insignificant memories to very emotional memories. Then process this random memory and then present it into a visual language that might give birth to new meanings and feelings from the fragmented pieces of memory, whether it becomes simple or becomes even more complex and complex. On the way, this activity of remembering took me by and dragged my memories mostly toward the house, more specifically to the Family.

One by one the memories that I managed to capture were captured and broken down into details that may or may not be accurate. And that all open an assumption that the past that I experienced had a huge impact on me in the present. These memories are the accumulations of past human experiences that have always been the root of present and future events. Something that we do, even as a small child, can play a big role in our lives today. Time will continue to pass. Humans are always faced with worries and fears of a future that is always a mystery.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you to grow as an artist?

What’s most challenging is how I try to remember vague memories every day. It’s not easy to remember bad things or past trauma. But either way. We must always accept everything that has happened to us and always try to take wisdom and goodness to face a future that is always a mystery. Always do good things so that we also receive goodness in the future. This thought made me aware and hopefully will make me grow into a better person. This is a reminder for me to be kind.

Your work has been described to invoke elements or similarities to that of Mark Ryden and Yoshitomo Nara, how do you feel being grouped in with such notable figures in the new contemporary art scene?

I don’t really think about it. They are great people who really inspire me. If there is a visual similarity in my work to theirs, I think that is a very natural thing. I never denied that, I took it well. But of course we want to convey a different message and narrative. Because we are different people, we live in quite different eras of course experiencing different things too.

Who are some of your creative influences? And how have they helped you shape your own artistic voice?

Many influences have had an impact on my own artistic voice in my work. I think the people closest to me have a lot of influence. Day by day — all the experiences I have are the greatest. I’m a visual person. I’ve always liked to enjoy playing with visuals.

What is a day in the studio like? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

My studio is always quiet, I work alone. I don’t have any special rituals. Usually, I make tea before I start painting. I feel very comfortable starting painting in the morning and finishing in the afternoon. The morning air is very relaxing and I still have enough energy after waking up. Also because I like the sunlight when working in comparison to the lamplight. So, my productive time is in the morning to evening. Usually, I do the drawings at night after I finish painting on a large canvas.

Can you share what your favorite materials are to work with, from the notebooks, you sketch ideas down into the paint and brushes that are in your toolbox?

I used to work by making a few rough sketches in a sketchbook then I scanned it and processed it in Photoshop. Or sometimes from sketching on paper I immediately move to canvas. The creatures and figures that are created and appear in my paintings are a combination of both, real people and imagination. But I think imagination takes a bigger portion. I like to modify the original characters into something new, can be beautiful, or become broken and strange. In designing these creatures, I usually look for and collect image references or photography of two or more characters, then I let my imagination work on processing by adding or subtracting certain parts. I feel that all materials have their own joy. I always feel challenged to use new mediums. Oil paints, watercolors, pencils, soft pastels, spray paint, charcoal, I love all of that.

What is your most favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part of the creative process?

What I love most about the creative process is finding the unexpected while painting. Usually I already have a picture in my head of the visual that I will paint on the canvas. But when I do something accidental and come up with something new and interesting, I feel really good.

What I don’t like the most about the creative process is that when I am painting, I suddenly get distraction and I have to stop the painting process. It really sucks.

Your work has a lot of surrealist elements. Are you a vivid dreamer? And do any of the ideas for your compositions come from dreams?

Sometimes I get it from my dreams while sleeping. Even though I don’t remember them well and don’t accurately reflect them, I will make rough sketches of the characters and settings that appear in the dream so that I don’t forget them. Usually the characters and settings that appear in dreams are strange, illogical, and very abstract shapes and colors. But it is very interesting for me to translate it into a visual form. Of course, I add and subtract them according to my imagination. That’s an interesting thing for me. It is like giving souls to dream world beings. But in some works, I get them by looking at references from other artists or also from strange characters in films, old photos that I find on the internet, and many other sources that have had a lot of influence on my work. I really like to collect my memories from the past randomly and then combine them into one shape that might represent a different meaning from the original form.

On view: February 6, 2021 – February 27, 2021

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