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|Popularly known for his black and
white lithographs, Canadian artist Ken Pattern is giving freer rein to his
Mulia, lithograph print
Pattern is best known for his black and white stone lithographs of Jakarta
streetscapes. These images -- often dealing with the juxtaposition of rich
and poor, old and new -- have graced everything from calendars to bookmarks.
They have been credited with focusing attention on the plight of a city
at risk from aggressive urban redevelopment.
C ity Square, acrylic on board
| personality: most notably, a deeper plunge into
the territory of surrealism.
His style is controlled and almost mathematically precise. He has the ability to spot hidden meanings in the world around him, seeking design in what is assumed to be random. And he cites MC Escher as one of his primary influences.
But what about that name?
"It is my real name, it's not made up," explains the artist
who, since 1988, has spent much of his life in Indonesia.
Mystical undercurrents aside, the moniker has led to occasional confusion. "I had an exhibition a while ago and an Indonesian man came up to me and said, 'I don't know why you title all your pieces Pattern'."
He laughs, "I had to explain that it was my name".
Pattern's current show at the Four Seasons Hotel in South Jakarta presents new work, along with pieces from as far back as the early 1980s. In total, 105 prints and paintings are included.
Pattern's Jakarta images -- often dealing
with the juxtaposition of rich and poor, old and new -- have graced everything
from calendars to bookmarks.
The atmosphere was relaxed, despite camera flashes, striking of gongs and copious hand-shaking. Little wonder -- this show is Ken Pattern's 17th in Indonesia, excepting his fund-raising efforts for the Canadian Women's Association.
Pattern has taken the opportunity to reinforce the popularity of his
familiar work but is more concerned to reveal new facets of his creative
personality: most notably, a deeper plunge into the territory of surrealism.
A series of colored lithographs depicts landscapes from an aerial perspective: hills lined like topographical maps, or patterned by the symbols of human incursion (golf courses, houses) or the more harmonious efforts of the natural world -- in Dawn in the West (1981) deep blue rivers seems to crack the surface of the earth as if tearing it open.
The painting Gunung Pangrango Estates (1999) represents the beginnings of Pattern's current fascination with stronger forms of symbolism. Again, an elevated viewpoint is used but now the sense of danger is much more fully realized. A mountain looms dramatically on the horizon, while cracks begin at its base.
The cracks spread outwards, organic shapes giving way to the straight lines of a labyrinth that pushes its way into the foreground -- and the transformation into colorless artificiality is completed.
The image hints at the rice paddies of Java but the more dominant implication is that the labyrinth is constructed from tall buildings, box-like with tiny windows, making up city blocks.
So the wildness of the mountain is pushed further and further into a corner. Soon it will be gone forever, replaced.
"Environmental issues have been recurring in my work," says Pattern, "Dealing with alienation and how we affect the landscape."
But lighter subjects are tackled with equal gusto -- and a sense of humor ranging from whimsy to the straight forward punchline.
A pair of lithographs show ramshackle shanties nestled amongst modern buildings. In one, the shanty is stacked on top of others -- Penthouse (1997). The other shows a structure just as pathetic but cozily nestled on the ground -- Ground Floor (1999).
More recently, a series of lithographs was Pattern's reaction to the discovery of cows in the city. "I found it rather ironic that in the midst of all this steel and glass there was a functioning dairy farm in Kuningan. You can see Wisma Mulia from there." Thus the print entitled Mulia (2004). Moo-lia.
Another, Kuningan Kow (2004), shows a cow wandering complacently down a city street, while Cow (2004), shows the animal confronting the viewer with a sassy look in its eye.
Pattern has an eye for the absurd. "I have a lot of fun with my titles and rely on verbal and visual puns."
This is an artist not afraid of ideas. "I'm not saying that art has to have an opinion -- there is a good art and bad art. But it comes very naturally to me. I feel I do want to make a statement -- so there is a storyline." In fact, Pattern sees his pictures as very similar to short stories. "I almost think I am a sort of visual writer."
Ken Pattern's black and white prints depicting the kampongs of Jakarta are about documenting social heritage, something the artist says he will always come back to.
But for now the labyrinth (used in a more abstract context in Pattern's current work) is still the key image. "I found that the labyrinth was a perfect symbol for Indonesia. This is a country that does appreciate symbols and myths."
But why a maze?
Meanings are many and probably vary from viewer to viewer: anything from the stranglehold of capitalism to Indonesia's struggle out of the past. For Pattern, it's about "trying to find the truth. It is about how the more you think you understand Indonesia, the less you suddenly do. Getting lost and trying to find a way through".
So what's next for Ken Pattern?
He will continue to make art in various styles and mediums. He will continue with stone lithography, somewhat conscious of a responsibility to safeguard the traditions of this increasingly rare form of printmaking.
But whether this will be in Indonesia or elsewhere, he is less certain. "I have been coming and going for 16 years and it may be time to move on. But for the time being."
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