Charcoal is rather underrated as an artistic medium. When it comes to creating drawings and works on canvas, most artists seem to prefer oils, watercolours or even digital techniques.

Some people are put off by the charcoal medium’s monochromatic tones, tints and shades.

To visual artist Arikwibowo Amril, however, this is precisely why he likes charcoal drawings.

“When I’m doing my paintings, I’m drawn to black and white. Personally, I think that’s the reason why charcoal means more to me. If you are truly interested, charcoal can be a highly versatile medium,” says Arikwibowo, 29, in a recent interview.

Arikwibowo’s first solo exhibition Hukum Alam, which is showing at Hom Art Trans gallery in Ampang, Selangor, underlines his passion for wall-sized charcoal art paintings.

The 15 works were created earlier this year during Arikwibowo’s stint in A-Res, a six-month art residency programme organised by the gallery.

Arikwibowo, born in Batu Caves, Selangor,  studied art at UITM Shah Alam and Lendu, Melaka, and has participated in many group exhibitions since he graduated in 2012.

The A-Res residency is usually open to new artists. Arikwibowo, surprisingly, is a rare exception in this programme since he is already an artist with six years of experience. He was invited by the gallery to participate in the residency.

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Arikwibowo’s installation work ABU, which is made from durian tree trunks. Photo: The Star/Low Boon Tat

“The residency was a really good experience for me. It was good to be able to meet artists and other people, and get a chance to network with them.  The best part was definitely the chance to be mentored by (artist) Bayu Utomo Radjikin,” says Arikwibowo.

Bayu is also the director of Hom Art Trans.

“I’ve had to look very closely at the materials and techniques that I used and think of new possibilities and concepts to explore,” says Arikwibowo, who started out painting with oils in early years.

In his new works, the colours don’t stray too far from black and white. The meanings behind the artworks, however, are not as straightforward.

Arikwibowo’s pieces reference Malaysian history, some more than others filled with vibrant political and social commentary.

Even the title of the show is a play on words. Awikwibowo, as he explains, is fascinated by how “Hukum Alam” can mean “the law of nature” or “the punishment of nature”.

This duality in meaning gives the exhibit a certain playful and powerful backdrop.

Pemutihan, a series made up of portraits of the country’s Prime Ministers, is an interesting conversational piece.  There is a weather-beaten effect – smudges and cobwebs – given to the series, making each portrait unique in how each Prime Minister has stood up to the test of time.

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Part of the artwork Rujuk (charcoal, collage paper, oil on canvas, linen 2018).

Which Prime Minister was the most challenging to draw?

“(Tun) Dr Mahathir, because he’s a very powerful figure,” the artist says with a laugh.

The current Prime Minister is also the focus in Rujuk, which sees two images of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad facing each other … a contrast between his past tenure in office (1981-2003) and his return to helm the country today.

Accompanying these portraits are two images of the Malaysian flag. One is a collage created by Arikwibowo early in his career, while the other was drawn and finished only recently.

“The changes that happened to our country after GE14, they are all reflected in this exhibition. Personally, I’m still adjusting to the exciting times and finding so many ways to capture what is happening now in my art.”

Another fascinating work is Man-Cis, which sees an image of a matchbox, blown up  huge in size. It contains seven matches: six are burnt out, while one is still intact. Interpret this how you may.

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Deria Rasa (charcoal on canvas, 2018).

One of his most striking works, however, is the recently completed installation ABU.

Arikwibowo arranged a series tree trunks, all taken from durian trees, and  made them into the shape of an elephant lying on the ground. The work is placed right in the middle of the Hom Art Trans gallery space.

The wood in ABU has been charred, and a machine pumps smoke into the air. This is an allusion to the Malay saying “menang jadi arang, kalah jadi abu” (becoming coal in victory, or becoming ashes in defeat).

“The saying is about how sometimes, win or lose, it doesn’t make any difference,” says Arikwibowo.

The ideas and concepts of the Hukum Alam show, which were discussed during his A-Res residency, came about mostly from observations on politics and human behaviour.

“I realised, no matter, what happens, what political change takes place, you still have to continue with daily life. You still have to work, earn money, and not to depend on anyone else. Whoever goes up or falls, life goes on,” he says.


Hukum Alam is showing at Hom Art Trans, 6A Jalan Cempaka 16, Taman Cempaka, Ampang, Selangor till Dec 8. The gallery is open (Tuesdays to Saturdays) from 11am-6pm. More info: homarttrans.com.