By the lyrics of Aqua’s 1997 chart-topping hit single Barbie Girl, “life is plastic, it’s fantastic.” More than two decades later, Indonesian artist Dodit Artawan is here to put a dent on that proclamation with his photorealistic paintings.
Born in 1978, Dodit underwent his studies at the Indonesian Art Institute in Denpasar, Bali. As a student in Fine Arts, his exposure to styles and practices outside the conventions of Balinese art forms further propelled him into the epicentre of what the Taxu Art Clinic defined as a reluctance on the part of the Balinese art praxis to deviate from its traditional identity.
Balinese art has its initiation rooted in Hindu-Javanese origins that developed from the works of Majapahit Kingdom artisans and expanded to Bali in the late 14th century. It remained largely untouched by western influences until post World War Two. Even so, the fundamental aspect of its resemblance to baroque folk art with tropical themes still distinguishes a piece as something uniquely Balinese.
Dodit understood then that his adoption of excruciatingly detailed photorealism had no place in the resolute and narrow nature of Balinese traditions, and even more so when his subjects are unabashedly glaring in addressing the distortions of consumerist culture on the island. As lamented by the artist, “Just because I am from Bali, it doesn’t mean that I have to paint like those pictures on postcards for tourists.” On the other hand, his artworks seem to exude a certain sense of Beverly Hills vibrancy accredited to his fascination with the alluring designs of consumer-product packaging. Dodit recounted to us how he would tour the neighbourhood on his bike as he scoured the stores and their shelves for the latest trends and pop culture references that he could adopt into his compositions.
Perhaps it is the sheer size of Dodit’s paintings that draw his viewers in, or it could have been his peculiar choice of having empty alcohol bottles and Barbie dolls as his subject matters, but one thing for certain is that the recurring imageries of these objects in his series are immediately reflective of his distaste for the hedonistic Balinese lifestyle. The excessive consumption of alcohol by the residents of Bali has been a plague of health issues for the longest time. Coupled with the touristic provision of pools and bars that accommodate to the middle-class patrons, the lack of control on alcohol consumption further becomes a question of ethics when underaged teenagers have an unimpeded access to purchase alcohols in stores. While the heaps of alcohol bottles are illustrative of his concerns, what seals the deal with his pieces in their entirety are the lewdly clad, Mattel-manufactured plastic Barbie dolls which are often associated with an extensive spread of social controversies – the perfect pairing of fine wine and good steak on the table of consumer capitalism.
Riding on the success of a solo exhibition in Hong Kong and a number of group exhibitions in America, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore, Dodit already has the eyes of many collectors from all parts of the globe trained on his photorealistic works. Yet, acting on his disposition to create and not settle for the humdrum of success, he was prompted, back in 2015, to expand on new elements that involve contrasting the illusion of depth and volume with two-dimensional flatness. In 2018, he furthered into the domains of rhythmic line art that bears the reminiscence of Pop Art. Nonetheless, alterations to his style do not skew him away from his fetishism of objects, especially those of industrialised mass production. “The fetish attitude reveals how the contemporary society often becomes irrational simply because they want to have fun, and the world of capitalism gladly provides the fantasies attached to their products,” explained the artist.
It is rather probable that we as consumers are lost amidst the sieving through of our “needs” and “wants”, and Dodit’s rebellion through art is a beer bottle to the back of our heads which shatters such illusions that we hold so dear to survive this capitalistic rat race. Keep up with Dodit Artawan’s artistic evolution through his Instagram page.