From Tension to Oneness
Talking about Antonius Kho is dealing with the theme of identity: are we one, or are we split in multiple facets? Are we masks, and do these masks hide, or reveal reality? Do we communicate are not?
These themes haunt the artist's career. We may look for an explanation in the artist's past. A Javanese by his mother, who transmitted him the longing for oneness inherent to her culture, Antonius Kho is a "Chinese" by his father, who stamped him as an alien: "orang Cina" (Chinese). Speaking in his strong Javanese dialect, inheriting this ethnic-cum-cultural duality, Antonius Kho turned it into a voluntary personality split: he grew adult, and an artist, by continuously generating and questioning, though new experience, new layers of identity.
The place, of all places, where he first pursued this search of the self was Germany: Germany, the fertile ground of European 19th humanism, and the land of 20th European horrors. It is the place of contrasts, where, more than anywhere else, being "alien" has the most daunting meaning. But Germany opened it self to him. After studies at the Cologne Institute of the art, he was soon active as a "German" artist exhibition internationally. The artistic mood of the country provided him with the tools he needed. When he arrived there in 1985, the genre known in Europe as "informal art" was flourishing, and artists such as Wols, Fautrier, Tapies and Dubuffet, were still considered as the avant-grade. The peculiarity of these "informal" artist was that they endeavoured to "essentialize" expressive power by reducing representation to its "archetypal" core. The real tropc was 'psychological'expression. Figuration, usually amorphous, was simply a pretext. This style was well suited to the expression of the societal pessimism that was so characteristic of post-WWII Europe, particularly Germany. Antonius Kho's manner evolved from this style, but with a difference. His paintings, instead of resting, on amorphous figuration, would mostly consist of figures, or faces (masks) structured in the manner of mosaics, that is split in small, mainly geometric elements and yet readable in their iconographic totality. The artist was in these works expressing the tension between fragmentation and unity that he was experiencing in his search for identity, as well as the tension between isolation around the self and communication with "others".
When he came back to Indonesia in 1998, Antonius Kho settled in Bali, a place where being "alien" was - until recently - a positive asset. At first, his manner didn't change much. It still raised questions leaden with a Pirandellic anxiety: "to which extent are we mono or multifaceted?" or with Sartrian negativism: "is communication possible?" Antonius, however, was somehow was too "awkward" in this technique, or too shy for his message to be totally convincing. Now. However, in the recent works, his themes and treatment are changing for the better. In some works, the masks and the mosaics are still present, but it is to convey a message of love, as in "Bercanda (Joking)" or simply to show the defeat of pessimism though the intercession a "Savior", like in "Wajah-wajah yang disalibkan" (the Faces of the Crucified). Yet still more promising is a whole series of small "Mandalas", in which the mosaical elements of Antonius' previous works are made to whirl in a kaleidoscopic construction of softly hued colors. Figuration all but disappears, except for "eyes", which denote the fusion of Man in the living cosmos. In these small, mixed media works on paper, Antonius Kho is overcoming the tensions that have haunted his search for identity. He seems to tell us that there is after all unity in Man, and that communication is not an impossible dream, because the mosaic of life and that of one's identity always ultimately melt into cosmic oneness. So this most "European" Indonesian artist is now rediscovering his real mother: Java; and his quest of identity leading him to a spiritual rediscovery. Antonius Kho has finally found his path toward maturity.
Jean Couteau "The Echo - Tourism, Art & Culture Magazine"