Interview: Illustrator Roby Dwi Antono on his Startling Surrealist Imagery

March 05, 2018 9:00 AM

In a single painting, Indonesian artist Roby Dwi Antono combines a breastfeeding lamb, a kiwi bird, power ranger, crocodile, and a child. Though seemingly random, each strikingly-detailed character surrounding the dining room table is coded with meaning. The lamb represents renewal. The girl symbolizes an empty life. The power ranger means memory. The kiwi bird, vulnerability. The crocodile and girl straddling a fine balance. As they say, there is a method to the madness.

Antono combines jarring opposites simply for that; they are jarring. Humans and animals. Life and death. Ying and yang. The 27-year-old illustrator and painter works in extremes as well. Sometimes he meticulously plans his paintings on the computer; other times he spontaneously takes his brush to canvas or wood. Yet what isn’t surprising is that the talent of this self-taught artist is earning him acclaim among the Yogyakarta art community and abroad. His doe-eyed children and creatures are conversation starters, understandably carving out a presence on Instagram for the young illustrator. The pop surrealist images are personal to his childhood and his penchant for rabbits yet resonate with anyone who has lived through innocence and life’s brutality. Meditating on karma, life and death, Antono hopes to inspire goodness rather than fear.

And we have no doubt he will. Speaking to the artist about his background, inspiration, and future aspirations, TWELV dives deeper into the work and life of Roby Dwi Antono:

What was it like growing up in Indonesia? 

I was born and raised in Ambarawa, a little town in the suburbs of Central Java. Geographically, it’s a valley– a beautiful one– where you can find a lake (Rawa Pening) surrounded by mountains. 

During my childhood, I preferred to spend my time outdoors. Most of the time, I went to play in the garden, rice field and river with all of my friends. The mountain and lake view is a treat that I enjoy on a daily basis. I have only fond memories of Ambarawa, and the sentimental feeling that I have towards my hometown still affects my work today. 

After finishing school, I frequently moved from one city to another because of my job. None of those places can barely resemble Ambarawa. That was until I move to Yogyakarta, which I believe was luckily the same time when I was really growing up as a man. Yogyakarta, the city where I live and work at the moment, is a well-known city with strong cultural roots. Many say that it is the art and creative hub of Indonesia. Here, I found just the right atmosphere to work as I can learn a lot from the local creative community. I feel really lucky and grateful to be the part of Yogyakarta’s art scene and creative community. 

When and how did you enter the art world? Did you receive any formal training? 

I was introduced to and learned art informally. I am a self-taught artist, and I learned a lot from my previous jobs. 

After I graduated from senior high, I decided to become a print technician in an advertising company. My routine at that time was to prepare literally anything before it goes through the physical printing process. After that, back in 2011, I moved on and worked as an illustrator in one of the well-known local design companies. I illustrated and designed mainly yearbooks, while also maintaining my life-long interest in art by making both paper-based and digital drawings. It became more intense as I made the habit of drawing every morning before I go to work. I consider the drawings that I made at that time as a visual diary of mine. I also routinely posted my artworks via my blog and Facebook account (before Instagram was around). 

My first big break was in 2012, when I got the chance to have a solo exhibition in a new art space in Yogyakarta. I got a lot of appreciation at that show; even some of my works are surprisingly being bought by collectors. After the solo exhibition, I got a contract with a senior commercial Indonesian gallery which still represents me today. 

Tell me about the Indonesian art community. 

The art community here is evolving at a great pace. You can see a lot of alternative spaces popping up, which together offer the audience a new perspective into Indonesia’s art scene. 

I see no negative competition between one member of the community with the others. The atmosphere is full of collaborative spirit, instead. It is also exciting for the public to see, as some of our community’s projects also involve other parties who came from outside of an art background. 

Do you begin your work by designing on the computer? Is it difficult to translate the digital image to your physical medium?

Not always. For big-sized works, or the ones with complex objects, I usually do by initially having a design in the form of digital art in my PC. Making a digital artwork helps me in determining the right composition and coloring of the works. However, I often work on my paintings spontaneously. 

In regards to the transition from digital image to the physical artworks, I’d say that it is an interesting process rather than a difficult one. It is interesting as I do it spontaneously when it comes to the time to transfer a digital artwork to a physical form. The excitement lies in the inaccuracy and inconsistency between the digital and physical form. 

Is your childhood reflected in the children in your work? What’s their story? 

You got it right, the children are the reflection of my childhood. It also represents the past within the concept of Karma; the accumulation of aftermaths (effect) is made possible by the things you do in the past (cause). In some of the works, it also represents post-reincarnation phase. A new life. 

Those children are pure, and personally they become a kind of example and reminder for me to do good in the remainder of my life. 

What statement are you trying to make when you combine children with gore? 

I think it is as obvious as that. The pure subjects being presented in a horrible scene. Those are contradictory; black and white or yin and yang. It brings the concept of balance out of my works. 

What about the animals? And your preference for rabbits? 

I am always interested in the idea of life and living creatures. Life is a mystery which is full of uncertainty. The animals (and humans) in my works are the living creatures who have to go through a lifetime full of surprises. Rabbits, in particular, are simply because I had them as my favorite pets. 

What’s the typical reaction you get to your work? 

Most are in awe of the visuals, in both good and not too good ways. Some feel the fright and pain when they see my works. Some are also confused with the ideas that I want to convey. If I may conclude, I think most of them are just curious with the painter; what he is doing in his daily life while creating such bizarre artworks! 

You name Marion Peck and Mark Ryden as your inspirations. Have you always been drawn to pop surrealism over other styles of painting? 

At this stage? Not really. I’m not drawn exclusively to pop surrealism. I found each genre or style has their own attractiveness. Let’s just see whether other styles can help me to convey my idea in the future or not. That’s the most important thing for me as an artist. 

Are there any new styles or techniques you want to try out? Would you ever animate your characters into film? 

Not at this moment, but I won’t deny the chance for me to make artworks with a technique that I haven’t tried before. I’ll be happy to live on and keep experimenting. 

What are you currently working on? And your upcoming exhibitions? 

I am currently working on the paintings that I’ll show in Manila and Tokyo this month. A solo show is also coming up before the end of this year. 

What does an average day look like for you if you’re not painting? 

Watching movies and TV series just like other people. However, when I have the time, I would just travel and fuse myself with nature. Sometimes I also play football. 

Do you have any goals for 2018? 

I am trying to be as experimental as I can be. Showing an artwork in an experimental medium is one of my main targets for this year. 





PHOTO CREDIT: ROBY DWI ANTONO / Srisasanti Syndicate



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