Affandi: The Artist Who Said “No” to a Million Dollars

Affandi – If you’re in the art world of Asia, India or Europe, the name carries a breath of something special. Arguably Indonesia’s best known painter in the 20th century, Affandi is a towering figure in the history of Indonesian modern art.

An artist known to break away from Indonesian stereotypes and traditional expectations, Affandi himself was not a conscious revolutionary. As a self-taught artist, he painted because he simply wanted to, scribbling on canvas in his spare time. From upper secondary school he worked as a teacher, then a ticket collector then a scene painter for a cinema. He began painting as a hobby in 1939, exhibiting with other local artists in 1940 and found he could sell a canvas for $8. For five years he worked for the first 10 days of each month and practiced painting for the rest. Her did this until he could support his family of four with his painting, and became a full time professional artist.

Affandi went on to feature in exhibitions across London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Rome. Upon returning to his homeland, he was asked to represent Indonesia in the International Biennale in Sao Paulo in 1953 and 1956, and Venice in 1954. With enormous success and increasing visibility, Affandi remained a humble figure. He recalls the day when an American millionaire offered him $1Million USD for his whole collection; Affandi replied with a shy smile and told the collector his paintings were for Indonesia.

Affandi painted in a rich colour scheme with a swirling line reminiscent of the impressionistic style known to the western world. Affandi had not seen European art when he was painting under the Japanese occupation, nor trained in any particular manner but simply thought of himself as a painter.

Affandi began teaching his skills to art students in 1955 at the Indonesian Academy of Fine Arts, he was then later made an Honorary Professor of Painting by Ohio State University, and in 1974 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Singapore. He also received the Peace Award from the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation in 1977 and the title of Grand Maestro in Florence, Italy.

In 1976, a young Australian woman travelled to Indonesia to attend her cousin’s wedding, a professor at the University of Djokjakarta. Her cousin and his new bride introduced her to Affandi at his bamboo cottage, shortly after which she picked out ‘the buffalo painting’, describing it as having resonated with her the most. Affandi wrapped the canvas up in a handmade bamboo cylinder case which she clutched carefully in her arms throughout the entire journey back to Australia. This painting has remained in this one private collection since 1976, until its exhibition and auction here at Leonard Joel as lot 25 of our Fine Art Auction.

Lucy Foster | Fine Art Specialist | 03 8825 5606

Fine Art Auction: Tuesday 17 March 2020, Melbourne