Indonesian artist Christine Ay Tjoe addresses themes of philosophy and spirituality in her work, focusing on the human condition, as filtered through her own subjective experience. Although visually seductive, her expressive work deals with abject subject matter, attempting to connect with our most powerful emotions and deep psychological fears.
Born in 1973 in Bandung, Indonesia where she continues to live and work, Ay Tjoe began her career making graphic works, specifically intaglio dry point prints and then textiles. Her diverse oeuvre now encompasses painting, drawing and sculpture as well as large-scale installations. ‘My interest point is human beings,’ she has said. ‘In my works, I talk more about what will happen in terms of human trends, local or global; what I see as possibilities in my mind, personal ideas.’
In her dramatic, layered, abstract paintings, she investigates universal drives and conditions that we experience as human beings, such as greed, desire and power – motivators often heightened by the effects of a global society. While the starting point for a painting can be spontaneous, located in a single line or smudge of oil stick for example, their inspiration can reside in sources as diverse as the spirituality of the Dalai Lama and the unconventional life and work of German graphic artist Horst Janssen. Produced during a period of intense concentration, almost akin to a transcendental state, Ay Tjoe’s paintings include tentative suggestions of figurative or animal forms within intense passages of abstraction, often with large areas of the canvas left blank. Their colourful and vibrant surfaces reveal darker elements beneath, playing on notions of the visible and invisible as well as on the outer and inner facets of human existence, what the artist describes as ‘layers which are seen and unseen’.
The importance of drawing and the power of the line, learnt from printmaking, is central to the paintings. This is evident in their delicate balance of positive and negative space and density and fluidity of colour and tone, both achieved through variable pressures of the hand and different painterly techniques. Tactile, thick impasto alternates with watery glazes and washes of colour which, when combined with a highly expressive line, results in works that can appear both powerful and spectral, as if disappearing into or emerging from the material of the canvas itself. Referencing a kind of primal mythology, they suggest the conflict between light and dark forces both in terms of iconography and the symbolic or emotional weight. ‘It’s also about good and evil, even in the past, it’s been about our translation of what good and evil is’ Ay Tjoe has said. Through a variety of marks, she creates a strong sense of movement across the canvas as if her compositions are driven by centrifugal forces formed by physical urgency. Visceral brushstrokes and partially or entirely erased areas of paint suggests a state of chaos, where beauty morphs into abjection and equilibrium dissolves into disharmony. Manifesting a range of feelings such as melancholy, joy and fear, her colour palette is charged and symbolic, often with a predominance of earthy browns and blood reds, alluding to physical and metaphysical levels of being; to the connection of mind, body and soul and the essential balance between all three.
Christine Ay Tjoe was born in 1973 in Bandung, Indonesia, where she studied and continues to live and work. Her work has been exhibited across Asia, including a major retrospective at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (2018). Ay Tjoe has also been featured in international group exhibitions, including Asia Society Triennial, New York (2020); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung (2012); Singapore Art Museum (2012); Fondazione Claudio Buziol, Venice (2011); Saatchi Gallery, London (2011); Shanghai Contemporary (2010); National Gallery, Jakarta (2009); Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (2005); and the 1st Beijing International Art Biennale, China National Museum of Fine Art (2003).