Studio  April 13, 2020  Anna Claire Mauney

Eddy Susanto Transforms Iconic Works From Art History

Courtesy of the artist

Eddy Susanto, Theosophy Arjuna, General Wolfe and Gandhi, 2016. Acrylic, pen, fluorescent ink on canvas.

Eddy Susanto worked for many years as a designer before entering the contemporary art world. Even now, he admits, “I still feel awkward if people call me an artist, while previously I did not mind to be called a designer.” This is despite exhibiting widely, with solo and group shows across his native Indonesia and abroad since 2007.     

Susanto’s work stands out in the field of contemporary art, in part due to the similarities he sees between graphic design and art. He says he finds “the mind-set, the work discipline, and the creative process” to be remarkably similar.

courtesy of the artist

Eddy Susanto, Theosophy Arjuna, General Wolfe and Gandhi (viewed under UV light), 2016. Acrylic, pen, fluorescent ink on canvas.

As such, his process is very influenced by his experiences from the design world, specifically with production and printing. “My assistants from then are now also part of my team in contemporary art,” he explains. “Most of them are not from the world of art, but want to learn to assist.”

For Susanto, conversation and research are two integral steps of the creative process, be that with friends or assistants. “I believe that a process of dialogue is needed before an idea becomes mature and complete,” he explains. These discussions are fueled by very specific research: “The idea has to be supported by reliable data to be accountable and become a body of knowledge at the core of each of my artworks.” 

Creating artworks that also function as bodies of knowledge is an ultimate goal for the artist. “My expectations may seem grandiose,” he prefaces, then goes on to say, “I hope my works will become an initial place for activists in art, history, literature, cultural studies, and science to investigate further.”

Susanto is profoundly interested in looking into historical periods of change, particularly when two conflicting shifts occur, or when two major upheavals happen in regions far away from one another. Often, the subjects he chooses and the manner in which they are juxtaposed in his artwork—typically through a combination of text and images—evoke important questions relevant to modern day issues.

courtesy of the artist

Eddy Susanto, Cosmology #3 Adam & Eva after Crispijn van de Passe, 2019-2020. Acrylic and pen on canvas. Detail below.

courtesy of the artist

Susanto’s Cosmology series is a perfect example. Scheduled to show this fall at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo in Venice, this series is made up of “works that combine two controversial ideas during the Renaissance, namely Physical Cosmology (a textual body of work) and Religious Cosmology (visual bodies of works).” This collection contrasts the Renaissance period’s scientific understanding of the universe and its origins with the reigning religious beliefs of the time, rooted in the Book of Genesis.

The visual manner in which this contrast is achieved, a technique he has used several times, is striking. Using a range of artworks from across history, Susanto recreates iconic prints using words and letters from historical documents in place of lines and hatching. He has a particularly intriguing series of appropriated Albrecht Dürer prints, specifically those with exoticized Eastern subjects, recreated using rows from the text of Babad Tanah Jawi (The Chronicles of Java) to make up the lines of the images.

courtesy of the artist

Eddy Susanto, Java of Dürer, 2011. Acrylic and pen on canvas.

Susanto says this combination was inspired by his desire to “study my culture as well as the socio-history of my country and put this into a proper perspective.”

In the case of the Cosmology series, the iconic prints are of Adam and Eve, comprised of text pulled from the writings of Sir Thomas Burnet, an early influencer of Sir Isaac Newton. The biblical figures are immediately recognizable, even to the most novice of viewers. It could even be argued that they have lost some of their individual meaning over time as they have become icons. Once the viewer steps closer and sees that words make up the image, the effect is one of fullness, particularly in this case, where words about the universe, its makeup, and its never-ending complexity span the image. It is as though the image itself has transformed into a complex, superterrestrial system.

courtesy of the artist

Eddy Susanto, Cosmology #1 Adam & Eva after Cornelis Galle, 2019-2020. Acrylic and pen on canvas. Detail below.

“Many races develop their own creation myth as an effort to answer questions about the origin of their races.” This type of myth-making may be an innate human trait. Susanto continues, “At the same time, these answers contribute to developing strong group identities, which influence many aspects of life such as societal classes and politics.” This is where Susanto’s work begins to evoke questions urgently relevant to modern audiences and current events.

Ultimately, the goal of this series, and of much of Susanto’s work, is to highlight the commonalities humans share and how these shared traits ultimately inform the cultural and identity differences that lead to so much unrest.

About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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