(b. 1970, Purbalingga, Central Java, Indonesia)
Ugo Untoro graduated from the Indonesia Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, where he has since beenliving and working. He is regarded by many to be one of Indonesia’s mostestablished artists, and has received considerable attention for his signatureenergetic, raw style. His affinity for the street culture and graffiti art ofthe city has profoundly shaped the development of his artistic philosophy,infusing it with an edgy quality that is manifested through all his works.
Since 1995 he has had more than 10 solo exhibitions inSingapore, Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta, Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya, and hasparticipated in group exhibitions in USA, France, Singapore, Indonesia andVietnam. His entry to the Philip Morris Art Awards in 1998 was placed within theBest 5; and he was named Man of the Year in 2007 by Tempo Magazine, anIndonesian publication that covers current affairs and politics.
When it was installed at the National Gallery in Jakarta inApril 2007, prominent members of the Southeast Asian art scene praised theartist for developing his explorations of the life and death cycle among one ofmankind’s most valued animals – horses – into a new spatial and artisticcontext. The exhibition was accompanied by the writing of two of Indonesia’smost prominent curators of contemporary art, Enin Supriyanto and Jim Supangkat. Following the exhibition at the National Gallery, Ugo Untoro’s work drewincreasing attention to the market for contemporary Indonesian art, bothdomestically and across the Asian continent.
Hailing from a street background and related to the boundless nature of graffiti art, his signature style is more raw and spontaneous rather than pleasant. Wrought full of irony and existential questioning, Untoro’s unpolished canvasses have a tangible connection to aspirations and issues shunted to society’s margins.
Ugo Untoro is one of the artists who have brought contemporary Indonesian art to a new level. He has already been recognized across the archipelago for his strong character and persistence in creating artworks that reflect the conditions of existence, both at the level of being an artist as well as a human being, which showcase Indonesian contemporary culture for what it is – turbulent, but also a pure and simple part of everyday reality. Over the past decade, Ugo Untoro’s works have encompassed an elaborate collection of paintings, drawings, poems and writings. In recent years he has also explored intricate installation projects, as can be seen in his work “Poemof Blood”.
Untoro’s papier-mâché heads bear expressions that are disconcerting to say the least: they are masklike pieces of art which appear to bleed, beseized by anguish, weep in fear or gasp in the thrones of death. These exaggerated countenances may seem monstrous and are not easy on the eyes, but they also accurately encapsulate Untoro’s belief that ugliness and turmoil arepart of reality. His masks portray pain and fury as universal emotions thatevery single living creature is capable of feeling, hence explaining the horsehead and the wide range of faces depicted in his work.
“It started from boredom as I faced a canvas or support, because it looked like I was merely led by habit and my eyes when it came to the use of colors, lines, composition, theme, all the techniques and effects.There were times when all I wanted was to tear it apart and walk away from it.
From there I continued to seek what and how is painting. I tried to read books on fine art. But these only added to my frustration. Everything has already been discovered and our seniors have done it first. I don’t have to follow form, since there was Delacroix, Manet, Monet, or Seurat.I don’t have to pursue lines, for there have been Durer, Matisse, Miro orOesman Effendi. I don’t have to seek content, because I know Van Gogh, Gauguin,Dali, Rusli or Amang Rahman. Not to mention geniuses like Michelangelo, DaVinci, Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Paul Klee.
My journey came to something in 1991. I concluded thatsomehow painting is about pouring out or putting into images what one feelsinside, borrowing forms from nature or from ‘the inside’, from withinourselves.
I started anew from there. I began to think up ideas andthen adopted the habit of making little sketches as a medium that could fitinto the shoes of a painter. Afterward I pour my attention into anything I canfind as the ‘canvas’ to say whatever I feel and think, honestly and freely: acanvas, scraps of used paper, walls, blackboards, even diaries.
My journey continues until today. I started to feel how goodit is to ‘paint’, not just ‘making paintings’. I do not care about forms,lines, composition, techniques, or any -ism within the fine art world. I painton anything, with anything, using whatever technique, about anything that’sthere inside me when I am face-to-face with something to paint on. I believethat when I am hungry then whatever I paint is going to sing the tunes ofhunger. When I am alone, silent, soft, dark, restless, choked, or screaming,whatever I paint would say it honestly and becomes the medium that channels thefeeling without hesitation. I do not need themes, contents, or messages totransmit through my art. I do not see beauty and order as the ultimatepriority. Good or bad, pretty or ugly, it is my painting, it is what I feel, itis what I want it to be.
A canvas or support becomes a kind of basket that hostsevery idea, complaint, hope, howl, or hopelessness that is put into itsincerely.
The graffiti we can find anywhere, on the city walls, thebridges, scraps of paper, engraving on trees, often force us to smile, to getupset, to be embarrassed, to grunt, to be moved into tears, or at least forceus to raise eyebrows.
Those things make me feel like I am not alone.”