Rusli, the Avant-garde Painter


Rusli (1916)
Rusli was born in 1916 at Medan, North Sumatra from the family of farmer of tobacco plantation at Padangbulan, North Sumatra. He spent his childhood at his home village, finished his elementary school (HIS) at there and continued his study at Jogjakarta. When choosing his further study, he initially preferred to learn medical science but he finally turned it out to the attraction of ideas and thinking from Rabindranath Tagore, a philosopher and cultural expert from India. Hence, he then decided to continue his study in Kala Bhawana Dept of Art, Shantiniketan University of Rabindranath Tagore at India. He spent his time about 5 to 6 years in India studying pure painting art, fine art of mural and relief, architecture, as well as eastern art philosophy of Shantiniketan tradition and thought.
Going back home from India, he directly participated in Indonesian physical revolution for independence struggle against to the colonialist. He wasn’t of course joining the war by upholding a gun but he participated in education to become a teacher in Taman Siswa School at Jogjakarta, a school that was established by some Nationalist native scholars and dedicated for people education. During 1945-1949, besides actively teaching in Taman Siswa, he was also appointed to manage Art Dept of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Indonesia. At the same time, he was also actively involved in art activities by assuming several positions as the Chairman of Art Community and the Chairman of Indonesian Youth Artists in Jogjakarta.

After the era of revolutionary war, in 1951, Rusli was designated to become a lecturer in Indonesian Fine Art Academy (ASRI) at Jogjakarta (of which now has changed to Indonesian Art Institute or ISI). He was indeed an opponent to the inception of PERSAGI or Persatuan Ahli Gambar in 1938; an organization pioneered by some senior painters like Sudjojono that was established to accommodate Indonesian artists’ activities. He was the only one who decline to join as according to his awareness, he was a painter, not a drawer (Persatuan Ahli Gambar means The Association of Drawer Experts). What a significant difference concept between both had turned Rusli to explicitly stand out in his viewpoint. At the time, a title of “painter” was indeed not as popular as a “drawer”; a title that people commonly called to painters.

Appreciating his achievement, he then obtained an opportunity to travel around Western Europe in 1953-1956, based on an invitation of Sticusa; a Dutch cultural institution in Indonesia that is now recognized as Erasmus Huis. Public in Europe obviously appreciated so much his artworks as shown in his sequential exhibitions in Rome, Den Haag, and Amsterdam. At the time of his exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, at Kunst Zaal Plaats Den Haag, and Ismeo Roma, he was bestowed with warm appreciation from a lot of Western journalist as a master with perfect technique.

Rusli continued his extraordinary track record in 1960 when he was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the International of Plastic Art UNESCO (IAPA) in Indonesia. In 1970, he was designated to assume a long-life member of Jakarta Academy; the board of advisors to DKI Jakarta Governor in art and culture.

In the modern world when people experience more complicated phenomenon and faster turbulence of alteration, an artist would therefore need to intensify his/ her observation upon objects. In the grappling with the objects of his works, the artist should first select and contemplate over the details to grab the essence. This process normally takes longer time then the expression itself, particularly with the exercise of “ala prima” technique that requires just once etching to final.

So did Rusli. In the process of creating his painting, he always first explored his objects through thorough observation and contemplation. The objects that poured onto canvas through transparent lines and put in empty space brought clarity of Rusli’s effort in capturing the essence of objects. Exactly at this point, most art experts value this process as delivering a poetic soul on canvas.

Rusli was initially known as a watercolor painter who frequently used small media in around 25 X 40 sizes. According to him, painting with oil or acrylic on canvas wouldn’t be as difficult as painting in watercolor. He said he loved challenge so that’s why he enjoyed painting those difficult. But further in his career, he didn’t stop to explore and expand his media of paintings so that at recent, the art lovers may’ve seen a lot of Rusli’s paintings are laid down on canvas, board, paper, as well as using various materials such as watercolor, oil, pen or acrylic.

Rusli’s style is attributable to what experts say as a phenomenon of lyrical painting art (soul outpouring) that was seldom to follow by most painters in that era. The style is classified in the genre of neo-impressionistic, semi abstract or sometimes expressionistic. The paintings’ white background is a manifestation of cosmic. The scratches of some tropical (or even minimalist) colors on his paintings that are composed of various once instant etchings actually reflect Rusli’s viscous comprehension towards nature and life. Due to that “lines language”, most laypeople would not be easy to digest and comprehend his artworks. A friend of him, Umar Kayam, mentioned him as an Avant-garde Painter, a call name that later popularize Rusli’s paintings.

Rusli, a veteran artist comparable to Afandi, Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan, is known by his colleagues as a prominent figure of reformer of Indonesia painting art. Besides his consistency and detail keenness in his artistic components including his signing inscription, date of work completion, and his right thumb marking that are always appended on his paintings, he is also an essentialist painter in all angles and terms. He sought to accentuate the essence, content over the cover, depth over the surface; and those are reflected in his basic principle; a plainness and simplicity in his paintings and life. For him, painting is not merely a profession; but more correctly as way of life, devotion and dedication. As a painter, he produced strong character in his paintings although they look simple in colors and space at a glance. But they’re always captivating.

Rusli is indeed always a great painter ever after...

LOT #7

  • Title : Jukung Boat
  • Type : oil on canvas
  • Dimension : 40 X 50 cm
  • Year : 1973
  • Condition : framed, very good and well preserved, ready to hang
  • Signature : signed "Rusli" and marked with thumb sign
The above painting was acquired from a reputable official art auction house. There was NO provenance or COA provided. However, to the best of seller’s knowledge, we guarantee that the aforementioned piece is 100 % original and genuinely produced by the said painter as stated.