De Boer’s work invokes his Dutch-Indonesian cultural legacy to address broader themes of cultural hybridity and representations of interpersonal and international power dynamics.

Growing up in a diverse community in Southern California as a first-generation American, de Boer adapted with an almost unconscious fluidity to his American identity. His awareness of the grief and dislocation that birthed this new identity was largely ignored as his family assimilated to middle-class American life. 

In his recent work, De Boer revives the memory of his dormant cultural history and aesthetic traditions nearly erased by this assimilation. This exploration of his Indonesian heritage addresses the trauma of the Indo legacy, asking what this particular history means more broadly for contemporary global culture.

Twin Tempests
acrylic paint staining and oil paint on linen
117 x 217 cm, 117 x 102.5 cm per panel

Detail of Twin Tempests

Twin Tempests depicts a scene of stormy seas with a peculiar mix of various bird species captured within the same frame. The painting is a mirroring diptych done in a batik-adjacent wax-resist technique that creates an aesthetic bordering between naturalism and flattened stylization. 

De Boer is an avid surfer, and this painting is about a winter storm that the artist experienced on the beach in Southern California. The day it happened, the sky had been dark at the beach all day, but then there was a break in the clouds on the horizon and the wind came up. As the weather changes, the black crows and white seagulls circle all around the artist. All the while, the cool and collected pelicans flew in a tidy crisp line at the horizon, hunting for fish. While at first glance those birds do not belong together, but because of California’s ecological composition the coexistence of the three species becomes possible. In this aspect, the painting teters the balance between being “possible fantasies” and “realistic idealism”, not completely fantastical, yet curated enough that it is not completely natural.

In his recent work, De Boer paints birds against the California city landscapes as a metaphor for migration and cultural diversity. While not intentionally talking about racial tension, because of the political landscape it is created in, a racial justice approach to reading this work becomes a totally valid point of view. 

Duplication becomes a recurring theme in Adam’s artwork, firstly because he has a twin brother, so the theme of “pairing” and “mirroring” comes naturally when talking about identity. The symmetrical composition in this painting was inspired by The Coronation of the Virgin by Quarton however the existence of the human figure is replaced by naturalistic rendition of birds. In this work, the artist creates order out of chaos. Through the means of mirroring, the composition becomes automatically symmetrical.

Using imagery and painting techniques informed by his Californian upbringing and education, de Boer remixes Javanese craft traditions, incorporating traditional designs to make hybrid representational forms. His work brings race, gender, and sexuality into conversation because these facets of identity are always refracted through one another. The conflicting aesthetics in these hybrid objects serve as a symbolic gesture toward the historical reality of the post-colonial condition.

Rather than calling for a pat resolution, de Boer hopes his work encourages sustained engagement with cultural difference and injustice as a decolonial antidote to the racist and xenophobic legacies of imperialism present in the caste structures of America, Indonesia, and Europe alike. Because their invisibility is what gives them power and longevity.

Jendela Pagi (Morning Window)
wax-resistant acrylic ink, rabbit skin glue, and oil paint on linen, woven bamboo
75.5 x 70.5 x 3.5 cm

Jendela Malam (Night Window)
wax-resistant acrylic ink, rabbit skin glue, and oil paint on linen, with woven bamboo
75.5 x 70.5 x 3.5 cm

Detail of Jendela Malan (Night Window)

Jendela Pagi (Morning Window) and Jendela Malam (Night Window) are two mirroring paintings commenting on the convention of Mooi Indie and on Adam’s Dutch-Indo heritage.

Each painting is composed of three layers. Working from the inside out, the first layer depicts an idyllic representation of Yogyakarta’s countryside painted in plein air manner. Barely visible in the paintings’ backgrounds, mountains serve as a backdrop for the palm tree and rice fields that occupy each foreground; the Mooi Indie trifecta. One painted at mid-day and the other at night, de Boer evokes the ‘series paintings’ of French-impressionists, such as Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, albeit momentarily. For as one moves beyond the canvas’ borders, this association begins to crumble. The second layer is a simplified rendering of laid stone walls, representing the built environment of Yogyakarta, and also a metaphor for the archipelago during the colonial era. The outermost layer is bamboo weaving, akin to the walls of traditional Indonesian houses.   

In this work, Adam creates a distinct composition that diverges from the idealism of early 20th century Mooi Indie landscapes. The two visual styles are an antithesis of each other, just like the two sides of his identity, working together to create a new hybrid and unique appreciation of the Indonesian landscape. 

Detail of Jendela Padi (Morning Window)
Detail of Jendela Malan (Night Window)

Adam de Boer
(b. California, USA, 1984)

Adam de Boer graduated with a BA in Painting from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2006) and an MA in Fine Art from the Chelsea College of Art, London (2012). Recent exhibitions include Gazelli Art House, London (2021); The Hole, New York (2021); ISA Art + Design, Jakarta (2020); Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles (2020/2018); Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London (2020); World Trade Centre, Jakarta (2018); and Art|Jog, Yogyakarta (2018/2015). In 2017, de Boer was awarded a Fulbright research fellowship to Indonesia. 

Other grants include those from Arts for India, The Cultural Development Corporation, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and The Santa Barbara Arts Fund. 

For the past ten years, de Boer has travelled throughout Indonesia to investigate his Eurasian heritage. His recent work employs imagery and traditional crafts from the region as a way to connect his artistic practice with those of his distant cultural forebears. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

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