Article and Photography by
Dewi Dian Reich. Artist and writer. Founder of Sawidji & Co.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Whenever we get to know someone, we can’t help but ask questions. It’s our natural curiosity. Their memories and experiences are a large part of their story that we missed. But the beginning or middle of a story all relates to where the story is going.
I met Made Kaek for the first time last year, at an exhibition opening at Tony Raka Gallery. It was evening and our words were not so many, but already in those minutes there was a sense that ‘yes, I think we’ll talk again’.
Image: Made Kaek, the first time in our Sawidji photography studio.
Several months, coffees, chats and beers later I’m writing something that intrigued me from my first visit to Rumah Paros, his home, which is also his studio and gallery. I was visually familiar with Made Kaeks’ works but not many directly. In visiting Rumah Paros, you are at the epicentre of his life, his family, and his art. The gallery displayed the latest body of works ‘Creatures Emerging’ that blossomed during the Covid Pandemic. During the stagnancy of that period, his creative energy continued an culminated into something transformative.
I know that Made Kaek is a graduate of law, not art. He is a self-taught artist. Before this, I have read and heard this mentioned. But in seeing this, I smiled to myself because the evidence of his time as a lawyer is very present today in the studio and gallery of Made Kaek the artist. The contrast is fascinating and tells a different story of its own.
The Story in the Details
My observations reflect as much about my tendency to see the unassuming modest details. Details that are small but make the largest difference in the way a story can unfold. An important detail unearthed can be like a pebble that gets stuck in a cog and stops the wheel from turning. In Made Kaeks’ gallery, on a short shelf on one side of the room are stacked neatly many, many folders. In these folders are drawings and sketches in plastic leaflets, catalogued and archived by year.
Inside these fullscap folders there are scribbles, notes, pencil drawings and all kinds of recordings of Made Kaeks’ studies from every opportune moment he has. That in itself is not unusual. Its to be expected of an artist that develops theme and form through process. What I found interesting is the way it was filed.
At first glance they appear a little nonchalant in the room. However, within it they are very orderly. Catalogued in a very tidy and systematic way. More like handling documentation than artist sketches.
More than a Visual Dimensionality
Made Kaeks’ art is prolifically written about. amorphic figures that emerged during the covid pandemic have had notable articles written by such poet/curator as Warih Wisatsana and other writers and artists also. Many are drawn to write about Kaeks’ works. There is perhaps a fascination and magnetism in Made Kaeks’ ‘Creatures’. They are full of contrasts. Enigmatic, mysterious, and jovial whilst frightening as well. They tell their own story, and perhaps one that is understood best by intuitive feeling. However, if I were to say something about it, would be its depth and interesting dimensionality.
Whether we end up in the context of psychology or spirituality, Made Kaeks’ works invite speculation. The question of their realness is often curiously discussed There is more than a visual dimensionality to Kaes’ art. We have spiritual, conceptual, and representational dimensions, all of these aspects are forced into his art as a question. What are they? What do they mean? Are they human? or animal? There are opposites and contradictions. In a play of lines and colour that impresses one with as much childlike innocence as with otherworldly mysticism.
I come back to the systematic archiving of this artist’s drawings and sketches. It reminds me of the way my grandfather used to itemise, label, catalogue ..well anything. He would alphabetically and then numerically cross-categorise and code his filing. Whether it be his record collection or books. For my grandfather, this makes sense, being a numbers person who worked for decades in a bank, this is expected.
But in the freedom of Made Kaeks’ creative world, through the wildness and lucidity of his imagination are the absolute certainty of his forms. They are tangible in feeling and form. It’s tangible. The energy in the image is tangible.
This energy is what makes the question so often asked.. the question that people want the answer to. Are they real Made Kaek? Do you see creatures? Because they have a presence that makes one feel that is a question worth asking.
Perhaps there are different ways we can speculate. One way is by this detour through the influence of law in his background. Through details that give clues to the story. Through the meticulous details of his folders. This may not be a mystical evaluation but.. it can help us understand and appreciate the scope and heart of Made Kaek and what drives his creativity and inspiration. What makes him tick? In his art that is. What infuses his creatures with this much life?
The Answer in the Process
I asked Made Kaek about his process, in his view. How does he perceive himself to process his inspiration through his visions? It is a long process. Of development. Kaeks’ palette is expressive. He is meticulous, consistent, and disciplined. He will explore and grapple with the flickers and flashes on the outskirts of his consciousness until he catches their form. In catching that form he discovers there is further deformation in his subjects. This is how the creatures evolved, transformed and emerged. Ultimately come alive.
There are many things I learned from the law,.. how I analyse something and work through something with the time line that is right. ..Made Kaek
Wherever I go I will bring a book and I will draw and sketch. From there they will freely be transferred to canvas.. my exercise is actually in the sketch and drawing.. and there I dig deep from my imagination and my sketches translates that into a two dimensional paintingMade Kaek
Friends and Mentors
Made Kaek considers himself very blessed to have met the mentors and friends that he met during his studies in Yogya. Made Wianta and Nyoman Gunarsa are some of his mentors that continued to be strong influences in his development as an artist. They are mentors that set examples of voracious creative minds. Progressive, sharp and pioneering. With formidable energies and confidence that left giant footprints in the landscape of Indonesian contemporary art. Made Kaek carries the baton from their mentorship justly. Their guidance forged him on a uniquely individual path. Fuelled by his tenacious and disciplined nature, Kaeks’ art was never boxed or restricted by the formalities of conventional training.
I am actually a student.. their guidance and encouragement nourished me. It is like I was given food by my friends. They gave me skills.. who would I have learned from if it was not for them..Made Kaek
A Matter of Heart
An analysis on visual style, themes and influences is something perhaps for another discussion. There is a more immediate observation for me. A poignant aspect that I find beautiful in Made Kaeks’ art, and something perhaps more difficult to articulate. Aside from the theoretical way we can respond to a work of art, there is the matter of the heart.
If a work speaks to you, I like to see this as a matter of the heart. The heart of an artist is in their art. The most honest work carries more of the heart. And this is very illusive, even to the artist.
An Insightful Contradiction of Art and Law
You might be thinking, what does the law have to do with it? Well, ‘What is the law to you? and why did you leave it?‘ These were the first real questions I asked Made Kaek. Questions whose answers I knew is significant for me somehow. There were no straightforward answers. The law for Made Kaek should have been absolute, much like the sum of 2+2 will = 4. And many people will assume that a person with an artistic nature who leaves the practice of law, did so because it was too restrictive or too structured.
I don’t think this was it. Decades later, Made Kaek still shows he is a man of consistency, structure and discipline. It is in these words throughout our conversations that I finally got my answer. It is here that I felt this subtle light shine on this notion of a sembiotic relationship between art and law within the heart of his art. An insightful contradiction of art and law.
The Ambiguity of the Law
Law is not absolute. It should not be but yet it can be twisted. When there is the heart.. you can’t survive in the law with your hearts’ idealism… Right or wrong isn’t there in the law… in my DNA my mother is there… I can do the profession but that world seems like a very strange world. It is that world that seems wilder. I moved away from that. ..My parents are very democratic. As long as I can survive with my art… So.. ok, I can live.. and I can survive through art.Made Kaek
Made Kaek often says that his DNA is more like his mother’s. More sensitive. Perceiving things differently and feeling things perhaps a little differently. Through his practice of the Law, he found that the structure and justice he expected to exist in the law were not as he hoped.
Perhaps within the artist, there is a conviction that innocence should be protected. Purity and innocence and truth should be protected. That would be justice. However, the Law system that Made Kaek discovered was too weak to do that. Perhaps devoured by manipulation, coercion and corruption.
And so, in a contradiction so subtle that it may be missed, the bonds between Law and Art in the life of Made Kaek. Giving birth to an art that is powerful with its layered dimensions, hidden questions and rebellion. But one question is answered, that the law is often too weak to deliver justice. It is through art that there is strength and power to live our truth and innocence.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
- Nungkalik Festival. Art and its Sacred Paradox.An experimental, conceptual journey through art and the wisdom of the paradox.
- Topeng Dalem, The Truth of a KingTopeng Dalem. The mask, the dance and the truth behind the nobility of Kings.
- Condong and the Energy of InclinationBalinese Dance. A rich traditional heritage in a social climate of changing inclinations.
- World Without Sound, an AnthologyAn anthology of reflections through art on a World Without Sound. In the true spirit of inclusivity.
- The Power of Topeng TuaAn exercise of the deepest empathy through the wisdom of Topeng Tua