Fiery red rises from the pitch-black abyss of the mystery that is Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s mind in Gejolak, his latest show to kick off the new year at G13 Gallery in Petaling Jaya. This 17-strong showcase is an unusual – but not his first – foray into abstract art for the Sabahan artist, whose signature dramatic charcoal works have carved out a place of their own in the local art industry and far beyond.
It is a highly-anticipated showcase for sure, as his only other solo abstract art exhibition was way back in 1997 at the now-defunct GaleriWan in Kuala Lumpur.
While the theatrics Bayu is known for are very much apparent in this abstract art series, the air of authority a viewer often senses with his famed portraits have softened somewhat in this show. What you get instead in Gejolak are images of undulating striking red ribbons set against a black backdrop, fluid in execution and constantly in motion.
“Gejolak sets out to capture the turbulence you feel deep within – your feelings, your raw emotions, and their fluctuations. In this series, I focused very much on the form and strokes, the creation of each artwork not unlike the choreographing of a dance piece,” says Bayu, who turns 48 this year.
What makes these paintings move the viewer?
“The energy I pour into it, the energy I attempt to capture. I hope this aura, this vibrancy and dramatics, will be keenly felt by the viewer, as I felt while painting it,” he adds.
Unlike his portraits, where Bayu starts with a specific image in mind and works towards achieving this end aesthetic, with this abstract art series, it is all about walking the path and smelling the roses along the way. Working with charcoal, he says, is more deliberate with careful planning required.
“So in contrast, working on this abstract art series somehow felt more free, even liberating. And the entire process is a journey that I want to celebrate as an exhibition, telling people what I feel and what is happening in my life now,” he says.
During the course of creating these works, Bayu observes that the chaos initially apparent in the earlier pieces, such as in Tarian Nafsu, gradually evolved to a more coherent form, tamer and neater and more contained, as in Tingkah Meningkah.
“The later pieces are more highly choreographed,” he offers. “Don’t get me wrong, the creation of these pieces are not as spontaneous, and the process more controlled than it looks!”
Bayu, one of the founders of artist collective Matahati formed in 1989, has seen a long career spanning art, curation and administration.
He is the director of independent art space Hom Art Trans (originally founded as House of Matahati in 2007 by Matahati) and a member of the FKlub, founded after his return from his sojourn in Britain in 2006, which gathers local figurative artists.
This week, Bayu, wearing his Hom Art Trans curator hat, also presented the artists for the Young Guns 2016 showcase, which is now on at White Box, Publika in KL. The Young Guns series is a Hom Art Trans series to expose emerging artists.
For the art collector community, Bayu is the man they want back on the scene, making art actively. If anything, the macabre world of skulls and bones in his Ada Apa Dengan Tengkorak show in Singapore in March 2015 certainly didn’t offer up any clues to this new abstract series Gejolak.
Gejolak sees Bayu in an urgent and creatively furious mode. So with his work for Gejolak, when does he know when a painting is complete?
“When it feels right,” he says, simply. “When I take a break from it, then come back the next day and it still feels right when I look at it, I know it is time to stop.”
With just three colours used in these works – red, black and white – these choices are no accidents.
“Black,” he says, “is the colour of mystery. You never know what is behind it, or what colours came together to form it.
“Red is energy, it speaks to you on a primitive level, you feel its tempo, movement, aggression … it feels like it is making a statement. And of course, then there’s white, which I always see as a possibility.”
As a whole, Gejolak marks a transitional period of sorts in Bayu’s artistic journey and ongoing self-discovery.
“I see myself as a progressive artist, and one who is not only always worried about stagnancy – but even worse, being comfortable stuck in such a situation. Taking on new ventures is therefore important to keep me on my toes,” he muses.
It just so happens that he is currently in a stage of his life that is probably best captured in the enigma and subjectivity of abstract art.
As to where life and art will take him next, it is anybody’s guess.
“Who knows what lies around the next corner? I am taking each day, each step, as it comes, and enjoying every single moment of it,” he says.
Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s Gejolak is on at G13 Gallery, GL13, Ground Floor, Block B, Kelana Square, Jalan SS7/26, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till Jan 21. Opening hours: 11am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays and public holidays. For more information, visit www.g13gallery.com or www.facebook.com/G13gallery. Call 03-7880 0991.