They are the ultimate presence or truth
Antonius Kho was born a “Chinese-Indonesian” in Klaten, a small town of central Java, an “alien”, to a point , in his land. To him, when he was child, the Wayang , Batik and other images of the Javanese world came piecemeal through the jumble and rumble of the life of the streets. As references rather than living symbols and carriers of meaning. Meaning was with Buddha and the Tao wisdom. It was the candle put to burn with incense in front of the family shrine. And like the candle it too was withering, as withered all the Chinese mores and customs. Antonius Kho’s real tradition, thus, was essentially a mosaic of beliefs and visual symbols: the paradoxes roots of a modernity.
This modernity was given concepts and shape first at the Arts School of the Bandung Institute of Technology, that has to this day inspired most of Indonesian modernism, then at the Academy of Fine Arts of Cologne, Germany, where he was initiated on the ground to the historical logic of the Western art scene. Ever torn between the various layers of his identity, Antonius Kho now shares his time between Cologne and Ubud, Bali, and exhibits regularly both in Europe and in Indonesia. Like the masks he so much love to paint, his life has two facets, and his identity lies in this ambiguity.
Apart from his career as a painter, Kho is also known as an organizer. He set up in 1995 “Tata Ubud”, a one month “open studio” exhibition as a marketing alternative to the conventional galleries. He has also organized various encounters between Indonesian and Western artists.
Kho’s works, like his culture, are mosaic: they consist of vignettes of yellowish tones scattered across the canvas in an obsessive patterning of human figures and masks. When looking at it, though, it is impossible to focus on these individual patterns or sub-patterns, one’s attention is drawn away, made to run from one color surface to the other, dance across the canvas from one tone to the other, until this visual search indentifies signs: eyes. Eyes lurk everywhere in Kho’s works, “They are the ultimate presence or truth” he explains, therefore the life behind the mask-and, from an aesthetic point of view, the figurative meaning of otherwise highly structured works. Kho’s paintings are indeed eerily, figurative while having the formal qualities of abstraction. They can thus be interpreted at both levels, without the one interfering on the other. One may let oneself be either haunted by the weird presence of the “eyes” and masks or entranced by the hypnotic quality of the color patterns.
Antonius Kho sources of inspiration are multiple. Batik designs and the figures of the “Wayang” puppet show theater alike have probably provided his visual memory with the notion of pattern. The artist was for some time a batik painter. As for Wayang, the principal vehicle of Javanese ideas and narratives, its puppets are codified too so as to enable an immediate by the symbolic content of these traditions, “ideologically” alien to him, but by their form. His approach is thus definitely modern. “It is not the symbols which I borrow, he says, but the images. I recreate a meaning for my own use. Hence the formal restructuring of my patterns into modern compositions. “Concerning color, through, it is nature that plays the main role: “I like to take my inspiration from the life of nature”, he says, “I like most of all the butterflies, for their fluttering quality of color”.
To sum it up Kho’s best works can be equated to musical composition. Forms endlessly transform themselves into meaning, and meaning into color. By the magic of creation, a melody is born.
Dr Jean Couteau (Art writer)