(b. 1970, Purbalingga, Central Java, Indonesia)
Ugo Untoro graduated from the Indonesia Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, where he has since been living and working. He is regarded by many to be one of Indonesia’s most established artists, and has received considerable attention for his signature energetic, raw style. His affinity for the street culture and graffiti art of the city has profoundly shaped the development of his artistic philosophy, infusing it with an edgy quality that is manifested through all his works.
Hailing from a street background and related to the boundless nature of graffiti art, his signature style is rawer and more 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.
Untoro’s papier-mâché heads bear expressions that are disconcerting to say the least: they are masklike pieces of art which appear to bleed, be seized 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 are part of reality. His masks portray pain and fury as universal emotions that every 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 colours, 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 or Oesman 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 that somehow painting is about pouring out or putting into images what one feels inside, borrowing forms from nature or from ‘the inside’, from within ourselves.
I started anew from there. I began to think up ideas and then adopted the habit of making little sketches as a medium that could fit into the shoes of a painter. Afterward I pour my attention into anything I can find as the ‘canvas’ to say whatever I feel and think, honestly and freely: a canvas, scraps of used paper, walls, blackboards, even diaries.
My journey continues until today. I started to feel how good it 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 paint on anything, with anything, using whatever technique, about anything that’s there inside me when I am face-to-face with something to paint on. I believe that when I am hungry then whatever I paint is going to sing the tunes of hunger. When I am alone, silent, soft, dark, restless, choked, or screaming, whatever I paint would say it honestly and becomes the medium that channels the feeling without hesitation. I do not need themes, contents, or messages to transmit through my art. I do not see beauty and order as the ultimate priority. 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 hosts every idea, complaint, hope, howl, or hopelessness that is put into insincerely.
The graffiti we can find anywhere, on the city walls, the bridges, scraps of paper, engraving on trees, often force us to smile, to get upset, to be embarrassed, to grunt, to be moved into tears, or at least forces to raise eyebrows. Those things make me feel like I am not alone.”
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 “Poem of Blood”.
When it was installed at the National Gallery in Jakarta in April 2007, prominent members of the Southeast Asian art scene praised the artist for developing his explorations of the life and death cycle among one of mankind’s most valued animals – horses – into a new spatial and artistic context. The exhibition was accompanied by the writing of two of Indonesia’s most prominent curators of contemporary art, Enin Supriyanto and Jim Supangkat. Following the exhibition at the National Gallery, Ugo Untoro’s work drew increasing attention to the market for contemporary Indonesian art, both domestically and across the Asian continent.
Since 1995 he has had more than 10 solo exhibitions in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta, Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya, and has participated in group exhibitions in USA, France, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. His entry to the Philip Morris Art Awards in 1998 was placed within the Best 5; and he was named Man of the Year in 2007 by Tempo Magazine, an Indonesian publication that covers current affairs and politics.