r e a d i n g s



Copyright Jim Supangkat

A catalogue essay for Hanafi's exhibition "Waktu / Times" at the Deutsche Bank in Jakarta, co-sponsored by Deutsche Bank and Daimler Chrysler,
20 Aug. - 27 Sept. 1999.

Hanafi on Javafred


De-construction of Abstractionism 
by Jim Supangkat

Hanafi's paintings, such as the ones now exhibited, are abstract paintings that expose brush strokes, lines, colours and empty planes. His paintings at a glance look expressive. However, being different from expressive paintings that are usually noisy with one repetitive rhythm (just remember for example the short arabesque rhythm in Affandi's paintings), Hanafi's paintings are calm, quiet and present two types of rhythm. 

There is one rhythm that is not easily recognised. This rhythm, which appears in the long lines pulled toward the outside of the painting field, or in the ones that slide in from outside toward the centre of the painting field, mark itself as being a part of some rhythm from outside his paintings. The other rhythm, that has a faster 'beat', usually appears around the points of interest of the paintings. Like other expressive paintings, this rhythm vibrates in high tempo, displaying spirit and signifying emotional expression. 

The relatively large size of the paintings that have caused many colour fields remain empty, and the single lines that trace the empty fields, build an impression that Hanafi is employing a minimalist approach in painting. 

Reading the visual language of Hanafi's paintings, an impression might be that he is a formalist (a painter who emphasises arrangement of visual forms as it is believed to be the essential problem of the art of painting). The abstraction (without projecting images) in his paintings, as such, indicates that he is avoiding representation (image that aims to present reality as phenomenon). His abstraction wishes to show that the visual forms that appear on his paintings are 'independent', not representing any other reality but themselves.

However, what is interesting is that that expectation is not right at all. Hanafi is not a formalist artist. He, as he puts it out, never does the work of arranging visual forms in painting. The empty spaces and long strokes of lines that make his paintings tranquil happen also almost automatically. He never purposely employs minimalist approach. 

The confrontation between the convention in understanding abstractionism and the fact that Hanafi is no formalist, does not have to make us choose which one is right. It cannot be said that Hanafi has wronged abstractionism. His explanation about his working process and his confidence about his art, indicate that he creates his works consciously and wishing to send a message. He does not just scribble down and pretend to be fashionably abstract. He does not wrong abstractionism. 

Being confident that there are meanings in his abstract paintings, I feel obliged to deconstruct my normal way of looking at abstract paintings based on convention (starting from fine art theories and the credos of abstract painters in general) in examining Hanafi's paintings. 

Deducting from my dialogues with him, my impression is not that Hanafi does not know that there are visual formal problems in his paintings. He is aware of what colours and colour fields mean. He also knows precisely what the effects of brush strokes, rhythms and emptiness to onlookers. Nevertheless, he realises that all of these are not the main issue in his paintings. This fact brings me to a conclusion: he uses abstractionism only as a language of expression. He stops at the skill of using language. 

This deviation becomes interesting as it exposes the reality that conventions influenced mainly by fine art theories are indeed not absolute. The world of creation can easily change conclusions from the world of theories, showing even a reverse truth. Hanafi's works also indicates it. Through abstractionism, which so far has been known as non-representational inclination, Hanafi does just the opposite - which is to represent his experiences in responding to reality. 

Therefore, his abstractionism must be seen as a collection of signs in a system of representation. A system of representation, that forms conventions in exposing reality, contains cultural symbols that are recognised by a society within a cultural milieu. In fine arts, these cultural symbols are always related with certain images - which are realistic, at least figurative, in nature - that make the symbols communicative and visually close to the reality. Therefore, the inclination to present cultural symbols in fine arts is also recognised as representational. Abstractionism, which is assumed to be the opposite of this inclination, is therefore known as a non-representational inclination. Well, in the case of Hanafi, abstractionism has become a representational inclination. From the perspective of fine art theories, this statement immediately sounds paradoxical, of course. 

However, that is the fact with Hanafi's paintings that have to be observed in the way to understand the meanings contained in them. First, it must be right away realised that abstractionism nowadays is no longer an indication of innovation in fine arts development. The half-a-century history of abstractionism has made the complications of abstractionism well known by the public familiar with fine arts. This abstractionism has become a communication medium to express various feelings with high emotional content and, later, experiences in responding to reality - this is the largest inclination of abstractionism in Indonesia. In other words, abstractionism is one of the 'systems' of signs within the system of representation. Naturally, this system of representation has a limited scope. Only art lovers that have been familiar with observing abstract paintings can recognise the system of signs in abstractionism. 

The minimalist approach in Hanafi's paintings is neither related to formalism. He is therefore not an adherent to minimalism that, in the history of fine arts, is known as reflecting a search for objective factors of visual forms (purity of form) and the essence of fine arts idioms beyond their function as carrier of meanings. In minimalism, the belief that all visual forms can ultimately be reduced to geometrical forms has made the search for formal essence give birth to geometricism. 

Hanafi's minimalist approach is far from geometricism. Hanafi's minimalist approach is closer to the minimalism that developed in Japan. This inclination, known as Mono-ha movement in the 1960's, presents a minimal treatment of material. The works of the artists of this movement expose especially the materials' characters based on their contexts, and not the substantial natures that are believed to be objective and, therefore, absolute. 

This Japanese minimalism is far from the goal to search for the essence of visual forms. Lee U-Fan, the Japanese artist of Korean descent known as a Mono-ha thinker, believes that works of art can build consciousness in their onlookers on the relationships among objects, spaces and men. He sees there is a 'dividing wall' between man's experience of "inner-space" and of responding to "outer-space", which is better known as reality. Japanese minimalism - that can be seen as attempts to approach material world with wisdom and as free of emotion as possible - is an attempt to make the experience of "inner space" to break through into the "outer space". 

Hanafi, through his paintings, questions the relationship between objects, spaces and men. Like the Japanese minimalism, the objects (materials in Mono-ha) in Hanafi's creative process are the painting fields that contain his visions, his critical stance and his adventures in exploring spatial problems. 

A fundamental lesson from that exploration is that he feels there has been a systematic spatial shrinkage in life. He believes that this is happening to everybody living in the modern realm. This belief quite possibly reflects "cultural codes". To some degree, we cannot deny this statement. These cultural codes have made Hanafi and us posses shared values and, because of that, Hanafi and us share meanings about space. 

Hanafi's paintings reflect his attempt in expanding the ever-pressing (shrinking) spaces. He believes that man - who does not like tight space - can indeed expand the space in his life, but is often powerless, or, even more often, does not realise that his space is shrinking. Through his paintings Hanafi represents spaces that in reality shrink and also his attempts in fighting against this reality. He tries to invent "large spaces" by exploring sensibilities and transferring them into his painting fields. In doing his painting he is always open in attitude, trying to interact with objects, men and his surroundings. He never paints alone in a closed studio. In this exploration he also tries to collaborate with a few architects (who group themselves in the AIM association) to shape "the large spaces" where the boundary between concrete and imaginary spaces is deliberately obscured. The hope is that the public can feel the "large spaces" created by the signs in his paintings. This makes Hanafi's paintings "public-concerned". Following Goethe's words on aesthetics, his works are 'infectious'. 

The space worked upon by Hanafi is certainly not just concrete space. The space is a space in layered reality where all the spaces in each layer of the reality have different substances. Hanafi senses an existence of dramatic pressure probably because he senses that the spaces in almost all those layers of reality shrink simultaneously. 

He feels that the spatial shrinkage, for example, is caused by over-specialisation where man shrinks the space of his thought and is only knowledgeable about specific issues around his profession. Doing over-specialised works with full concentration that cut loose the works from the surrounding world, according to Hanafi, automatically shrinks human space. Spatial shrinkage takes place also because of the lack of inter-human communication. Hanafi believes that meaningful spaces take place when there are inter-human encounters - discussions, dialogues, chit-chats, love affairs - where the space of mind unites with the space of sense. 

Trying to follow Hanafi's flow of thought, the fundamental nature of the spatial shrinkage probably has its root in the shift of meanings of individuality and collectivity in modern metropolitan life. The modern world has made collectivity the social force that dominates life. The modern world has also made the guaranteed presence of individuality be based on professional specialisation. 

This condition gives birth to anonymity that makes social communication grossly impersonalised. Believing in Hanafi's view that space has meaningful relatedness with sense, that anonymity and impersonalisation do make a human being loses the largest part of his life space.




A painting in the catalogue 
of Hanafi's exhibition "Waktu / Times" 
(title, media, size unknown)