JOURNAL | ESSAYS
Truth is Stranger Than Fiction | 2021
watercolor on paper | 100 x 150 cm
One of the keys to happiness is to accept sadness as part of the realities in life. That being said, this is not an encouragement nor an excuse for us to dwell in our own pessimism and stop every attempt in our pursuit of happiness. Instead, this is a call to cultivate a new mindset in understanding sadness, anger, and disappointments, not as negative emotions that need to be resisted or avoided, but as a moment or opportunity to reflect and understand ourselves.
Nevertheless, for the longest time, sadness and art have been associated as two sides of the same coin, in which depressive episodes have served as inspirations for artists – from poets, musicians, to visual artists – in producing their works. Therefore, it is unsurprising that we may have, inadvertently, perpetuated the myth of the tortured artists, which romanticizes frustrated feelings, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and mental stress as the prerequisites for the creative process. We admire figures like actor Robin Williams, poet Sylvia Plath, and painter Vincent van Gogh as the creative geniuses who produced extraordinary works because of their mental conditions. In recent years, as conversations around mental health become more widespread, we realize just how this mindset is wrong and dangerous. Williams, Plath, and van Gogh were the exceptions – their remarkable achievements in spite of their conditions were not common, and we all know the tragic way their stories ended. Prolonged sadness, depression, and sufferings are not to be normalized and glorified as the price of creative and artistic genius. Research has shown that being at peace and in good health are important factors that help us optimize our creativity and improve our artistic abilities. Then, what about artists who still use sadness as the source of inspiration for their process?
Atreyu Moniaga is aware that sadness is the fuel that drives his artistic process. Since he was young, drawing and painting have become his way to process complex emotions that he cannot express in words. As a daily journal, visual art is his safe space, a sanctuary where he can pour his most-personal thoughts without the fear of being judged by others. Through the symbols that he creates, Atreyu develops a visual language and his own secret world. With such a degree of privacy in his symbols and language, he is conscious of the tendency that some people may simplify his practice as an insular process that is limited to his own personal space. However, this simplification overlooks Atreyu’s external exploration process that is as extensive as his internal interrogation. These seemingly cryptic, obscure, and undecipherable language carries references from popular culture and art history, so upon closer examination, there is actually a way to interpret his semiotics.
Atreyu’s works, both the new pieces produced for this exhibition and his previous oeuvre, already have several identifiable signature symbols: Sjajh, the sun with multiple eyes, crescent moon, giant whale, arowanas, snakes and dragons, roses and foliage, fairies and nymphets, little boys, and many others. These elements come together in colorful compositions that stir our emotions. Some of his works, especially in his early career, are monochromatic, dominated by subdued pastels that sway us in serene sentimentality. While this softer tone has become one of his trademarks, recent works have shown some bolder moves with contrasting, vivid colors that emanate the burning passion and intensity. Either way, there is one thing that is present in both compositions: Atreyu’s paradoxical universe of imaginations. His paintings are scenes from fantasy land that are bothintriguing and terrifying, where on one hand we are mesmerized by the spectacular visuals, and yet on the other hand there is this eerie mystery that cannot be construed.
The fantasy elements in Atreyu’s works that lull the spectators through its color combinations and symbolisms can be rooted back to Japanese manga and culture. This is unsurprising, considering it was manga that first sparked his interest in art. His childhood dream to become a manga-ka or a comic author motivated him to learn how to draw. Manga series such as Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP, Shaman King by Hiroyuki Takei, Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac by Masaki Kurumada, and Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi were among the major inspirations that kept him drawing. Years later, to this day, traces of these manga maestros can still be discovered in the line strokes, symbolisms, character design, and contrasting colors he incorporates in his paintings. In addition to manga, contemporary photography by Tim Walker and Sebastião Salgado are also influential in the ways Atreyu injects elements of theatricality and glamor in his visual universe, thus in his more mature works, we can see how all these symbols have blended in unison.
The subjects and content of his work are developed through his explorations into emotionally complex themes in the works by film director Guillermo del Toro and visual artist Yoshitaka Amano. Both creators are his main inspirations in developing a fantasy, idyllic world that combines childlike innocence with horror and melancholy. His love for symbolism is supplemented with his penchant for a rich narrative that compels him to expand his references into ancient mythologies, especially biblical stories, and medieval legends. This is because similar to the modern narratives developed by del Toro and Amano, ancient mythologies are filled with tragic stories wrapped in epic heroism. Through these stories, Atreyu learns to find ways to transform his sadness, disappointments, and bad memories into a colorful universe, filled with beauty and grandeur that may not be accessible in the chaotic real world. While some may feel this contradiction as provoking disturbance, for Atreyu, this anomaly is a form of idealism. This is influenced by the music of Jewel, a singer he has idolized since childhood. He draws a parallel between his visual works and her folk-country music arrangement, in the sense that her music sounds simple and sweet at first, but when we listen closely, we can have a deeper understanding of the sad stories behind the poetic lyrics. Thus, Atreyu’s work is a layered and lyrical visual experience. To truly grasp the extent of his artistry, we cannot just see his works as decorative compositions that please the eye, instead, we have to be mindful of the changing sensations that emerge when we look at the details in the composition with our soul.
Consisting of more than 40 new artworks that include 26 paintings, 24 sculptures, and collaboration series, Conviction is an artistic achievement both as a visual exploration and technique application. In his first large-scale solo exhibition, Atreyu has exhibited his mastery of watercolor paintings on paper and oil paintings on canvas – the two main mediums of his works. However, as a young artist with enthusiasm and curiosity, this exhibition has also become an opportunity to introduce his latest venture in three-dimensional artworks, in the form of sculptures of variable shapes and dimensions. In addition, this project also includes two collaborative series with Rama Dauhan and Show the Monster, which may well be an indication of his future explorations – after this exhibition – into the world of fashion and new media art.
Tirtodipuran Link (Feb 3 - Apr 3, 2022)
Vipera | 2021 | Acrylic paint
on epoxy clay sculpture | 50,5 x 34,5 x 24,2 cm
Sentimental, personal stories and light observations into his surroundings remain a recurring theme of this exhibition, therefore Conviction is also a form of public confession that reveals Atreyu’s private emotions and contemplations.
Beyond this visual and technical accomplishment, Conviction is also significant in other ways. As his second solo exhibition, Conviction is a starting point of a new chapter in his artistic career, but on a personal level, this exhibition is a milestone of a long process to muster some courage and confidence to accept himself as an individual with all his strength and shortcomings. Sentimental, personal stories and light observations into his surroundings remain a recurring theme of this exhibition, therefore Conviction is also a form of public confession that reveals Atreyu’s private emotions and contemplations.
His contemplative side and explorations of thoughts are evident in the series License to Purgatory. Combining his research into biblical stories and his interests in character design, this series is comprised of seven oil paintings on round canvases, in which each canvas shows a universe that surrounds a central character. These universes and characters are inspired by the concept of seven cardinal sins. Traditionally, according to Christian theology, the seven cardinal sins are classifications of personal vices, including pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth, which can cloud the conscience to perform virtuous deeds, thus eventually leading to the eternal fires of hell. Departing from this concept, Atreyu reinterprets those sins into bad habits indulged to a point of uncontrollable excess, which brings more suffering and personal anguish in our current life. In this series, you will immediately recognize a new form of experiments – the rough canvas and the vivid monochromatic colors. Simultaneously, you will see familiar elements, Atreyu’s signature symbols of the snakes that slither by the edges, the distorted sun with multiple eyes, and mysterious creatures with an intense gaze. The combination of signature elements and new experiments is in line with the intention of License to Purgatory. As the first series to be developed and completed for this exhibition, the works in License to Purgatory signify the first step in an attempt for atonement, which is acknowledging our dark side and fears.
His introspective side and courage to be vulnerable become more dominant in The Fool’s Paradise. A complement to License to Purgatory, this series consists of seven watercolor paintings on paper. Whereas the previous series interprets personal vices into a character and their universe, The Fool’s Paradise is an intimate visual autobiography, which depicts how Atreyu’s own personal vices have an impact on his life. Since he uses his art as documentation and journal, the works in this series serve as a personal reminder of hope, that even in his lowest moments that bring so many disappointments, anger, and despair, there is always a lesson to learn and wisdom to gain. And that is the art of navigating life.
Conviction is achieved through a long process that has started in the mid of 2020 all the way to the beginning of 2022. Just as we know and experience, this period has been brutal as a result of the ongoing pandemic that has drastically changed the way we think, live, and survive. Although there is no specific work that responds to the pandemic situation, nevertheless all the changes and uncertainty have had an impact and added some mental stress during the 20 months of processing, preparing, and producing the exhibition. Atreyu intentionally documents his changing moods in the series A Seismogram of Conviction. Consisting of eight works that include watercolor paintings, acrylic triptych, and oil paintings, this series serves as free painting and improvisation exercises. Without the confinement of a particular theme, the works in A Seismogram of Conviction provide an insight into his working method of creating visual symbols and developing coded language. Every work in this series is developed from unprompted sketches that respond to his particular feelings during a certain period. Spontaneity is the keyword here, which also demonstrates his comfort and confidence in pouring his emotions with his own language. Thus despite the absence of a specific narrative, these paintings can still convey their messages purely through visual symbolism.
The painting The Secret is Safe with Us is the first completed work during the production period. Passionate enthusiasm mixed with a little hesitation – a very common, relatable reaction that we all feel upon embarking on a new journey – is evident in the composition of the symbols and the soft colors. Meantime, the painting And in Darkness, Dreams Can Only Last So Long, produced much later towards the end of the production period, has more vibrant colors that show no hesitation. When these two paintings are placed side by side, we can tell the changing dynamics of self-confidence throughout the preparation period.
Exploration in coloring technique and variety is more noticeable in the three works of this series, A Soul on a Quest, Journey of the Senses, and Treasure of the Mind, where within a narrow area, Atreyu manages to experiment with new colors. The successful experiment in this series becomes the precursor for the entire collection, in which you will see many unusual combinations and incorporation of striking hues that he has never been done in his previous practice that mainly comprises of matted earth tones.
If those three paintings experiment with colors, the three panels that form the triptych Once Upon a Story is a record of symbols. Upon seeing this work, you will feel as if you are being lured into a jungle with mountains, fungi, trees, mystical creatures like dragons, fairies and nymphets, and the forest spirit. The populous wilderness may lull you inside the world of a childhood fairytale, with all characters coming together at the same time, creating an illogical story that is soulful nonetheless.
Shadows of Emancipation is the work the very last work completed at the end of this journey and signifies feelings of relief and celebration. As the concluding work, this piece is also a tribute to the painting Conviction, the central work of the series, thus intentionally it has been developed with some degree of visual similarity. Produced throughout the entire duration of production, Conviction is a piece that evolves organically, according to the ebbs and flows of this exploration process. The result is visual documentation that is charged with emotional complexities.
The series A Seismogram of Conviction is an indirect accolade to the creative references that have inspired Atreyu’s artistic process. It is in this series that we can see the influence and traces of the aforementioned artists who shape him. In this project, he also dedicates one special series to the singer Jewel.
At a glance, the four paintings in the series Pieces of Jewel bear similarities to the works in A Seismogram of Conviction. But, upon closer inspection, we will realize the defining features of this series are in the subtle details and dramatic lyricism. Atreyu’s obsession with details through symbolism and ornaments is his way to build a utopian universe, an ideal world that is vastly different from our chaotic reality. In this series, Atreyu takes inspiration from four songs by Jewel, Innocence Maintained, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, Absence of Fear, and Carnivore. In the process of interpreting the music into visual artworks, Atreyu revisits the memories associated with the songs and lyrics. As a devoted fan since 1996, when he was just eight years old, the songs of Jewel have accompanied him through unpleasant moments in his childhood. Therefore the process of reminiscing that he has to undertake in order to create this series is in itself an emotional rollercoaster. Nevertheless, this process also helps him to pause and reflect on his struggles, and look for ways to reframe the hardship not as bitter memories from the past, but instead in a more hopeful sentiment about a loyal friend and opportunities that have arisen as he perseveres with conviction and determination.
Up to this point, we can gather that Atreyu Moniaga’s trademark is his introspective inquiries that are presented through an exploration of visual symbolism. Atreyu admits that his works are sentimental and romantic in that sense, and is deeply rooted in his personal experiences and relationships with his inner circle. In his eight years in the scene as a professional artist, Atreyu is fully aware of his choice to explore personal themes as his way to be honest and open with himself. His deliberate decision to examine contemplative themes does not limit Atreyu’s way to express himself solely through paper or canvas. Instead, since his early career, Atreyu has consistently made the bold move to experiment with new mediums and take on collaborative projects.
Such boldness and openness lend an influence from Takashi Murakami and James Jean, two contemporary artists who have become role models for Atreyu in approaching his creative practice. In addition to visual inspirations, the two artists have become living examples of how artists today can optimize their artistic pursuits. Through Superflat, Takashi Murakami has successfully blurred the boundaries between fine art or the highbrow culture and the popular or lowbrow culture. Then, with Kaikai Kiki, Murakami also introduces a new, international ecosystem based on visual art that can be applied into various fields from exhibitions to functional products and merchandises to fashion, among many others. This focus on a multifaceted careerand an interdisciplinary approach are also evident in the practice of James Jean, whose work combines references from traditional Chinese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, and Renaissance portraits. It is easy to draw parallels from these two virtuosos with the future Atreyu aspires to pursue.
In relation to this exploration, in the past two to three years, Atreyu has begun to expand his practices beyond paintings by learning the techniques of three-dimensional sculpting. Following several group projects where he exhibited one or two sculptures, Conviction is his first official launch of a large number of sculpture collections – even twice as many paintings as he has produced. Fifty four sculptures are divided into seven different series, with distinctive appearance and variable sizes. The concepts behind these sculptures are in line with the domestic themes that he explores in his paintings. Consisting of five snake sculptures, the series Serpenta brings the snakes from his paintings into solid creatures as if to symbolize how fear and bad thoughts can manifest itself if we cannot put the control to our minds. The loss of control is also the main message of Bhorgh, monster-like creatures that have also made their appearance on the paintings.
The Secret is Safe With Us | 2021
watercolor on paper | 100 x 200 cm
Tirtodipuran Link (Feb 3 - Apr 3, 2022)
These sculptures are allegories rooted in Atreyu’s personal observation of his surroundings. The series of Humble Braggers, Vox Populi, and Social Toxic individually explores the phenomenon of peer pressure and the desperate attempts that we make tobe accepted and considered important. As a playful observation, these sculptures are not intended as a serious critique to corner certain groups, but just like the other works included in the exhibition, these sculptures serve as a personal token to make a conscious effort to be considerate and act with personal conviction. In two different senses, the series Visage and Panopticonhighlight the masks that we put on in social situations. Whereas Visage directly asserts how looks can be deceptive, as a continuation of that observation, the series Panopticon shows the impact of our curiosity that sometimes ends in misery.
The process of creating these sculptures involves stages of deconstruction and reconstruction of visual symbolism that previously only exist as two-dimensional paintings. The method of re-examining and rebuilding brings a fresh breeze and new perspective, as also seen on the collaborative projects undertaken for the exhibition.
The Enchanted Dreams collection, which is a collaboration between Atreyu Moniaga and fashion designer Rama Dauhan, become a wonderful journey of learning for both collaborators. Consisting of five custom-made haute couture dresses and shoes, Enchanted Dreams brings together Atreyu’s illustration with Rama’s craftsmanship, which consists of deconstructive patterns and fabric combinations. The result is an experimental presentation with intricate details and sophistication.
Whereas his collaboration with Show the Monster –aptly titled Monsterifying Atreyu – takes Atreyu’s works, which shows the delicate nature of manual work into the digital realm and new media explorations. Through an animated digital collage and interactive works that incorporate the augmented reality (AR) technology, this collaboration not only invites us to enter the mind of Atreyu but also shows the various opportunities that can be developed in the future.
Through the process of introspection and continuous explorations, Atreyu converts his pessimism into meaningful and hopeful artworks. This process of analyzing his emotions is done, not by rejecting the dark side within him, nor glorifying his hardships as the only source of inspiration. Instead, by admitting the existence of these grim facets, he has taken the first step towards understanding himself. Ultimately, Conviction is a record that documents the search for rhythm amid the sea of madness and the journey of self-acceptance through a simple mindset: follow your conviction.