Photorealism painting is a genre that demands extraordinary patience and skill. It involves the artist studying a photograph and then reproducing the image as realistically as possible in another medium, mostly in oil or acrylic paints. 

Photorealism painting reached its plateau in popularity in the Indonesian contemporary art world about a decade ago, and Balinese painter Dodit Artawan has excelled in the genre. What sets him apart from his peers is his quest for technical perfection and his fascination with the subtleties of light and reflection upon the surfaces of his subject matter.

after party #4 150x200cm oil on canvas 2012

A multi-talented artist, Artawan divides his time with another closely related painting style – Pop Art. Photorealism evolved from Pop Art as a response to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalist art movements in the late 1960s in the United States.  Imagery from popular and mass cultures, such as advertising, comics and mundane mass-produced objects categorised Pop Art, the genre made famous by the American counter-culture icon Andy Warhol.  The Pop Art Movement presented a radical departure and a significant challenge to the conventions of fine art at the time.

Artawan’s paintings explore themes related to the daily life experience of youth and popular culture. His Pop Art compositions describe his love of cartoons, emoticons, graffiti and street art. When the opportunity arises, he unleashes his cheeky sense of humour or biting social commentary. His photorealism subject matter includes tattoos, beautiful woman symbolised by the Barbie Doll, mega-brand sports shoes Nike, Adidas and Puma, and the drinking culture depicting cans of beer and assorted empty bottles of hard liquor. Artawan’s extraordinary skills are highlighted when he explores the subtleties of light and reflection upon the shiny surfaces of glass and plastic bottles and even ice cubes.

Endorphin Release #1 200x260cm oil on canvas 2010

A happy-go-lucky and fun-loving soul, the drinking culture is a part of Artawan’s social life. Bourbon, Whisky and Vodka bottles are therefore some of his favourite painting subjects. Of particular interest to the artist is the use of flash photography in the process of capturing close-up images of the bottles, and the distorted images that appear when looking through the transparent glass. Artawan’s acute attention and remarkable skills highlight these distortions to create fantastic abstract shapes and surreal forms.

“Local audiences are more interested in the visual content of the paintings and the narrative, as story-telling compositions are at the heart of the Balinese painting traditions,” Artawan said.  “But from my perspective, it’s the technical attributes of the paintings that are the most essential and interesting. The impact of the flash and the reflected light bouncing from the surfaces I find fascinating and I enjoy bringing this to life along with creating distortions and abstract images within my three-dimensional works.”

Adept in working with acrylic and oils paints, even acrylic marker pens, Artawan has also mastered watercolours, often considered as the most difficult of all of the painting mediums to use. His talent has been endorsed on the international stage when he received the Bronze Award at the IWS Malaysia 1st International Watercolour Biennale 2018. The event, held in Kuala Lumpur by the International Watercolour Society, accepted over 400 artist entries from 66 countries around the world. Artawan was also one of the twenty-five invitees at the 1st International Fine Arts Exchange Workshop & Exhibition 2019 in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Endorphin Release #2 -150x200cm Oil on canvas 2012

Born in Batubulan, Gianyar Bali, in 1978, from 1997 – 2001 Artawan studied fine art at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar. He did not complete his studies and chose to drop out of art school. From 2001 – 2010 he was a member of the controversial Balinese contemporary art collective Seni Taxsu Klinik. This vital art movement made real headways in Balinese painting driven by their anti-establishment ideas. He has exhibited extensively in Indonesia during the past twenty years and internationally in the USA, China, Italy, Holland, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia. Artawan has held solo exhibitions in Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.   

Endorphin Release #1& 2’ 2010, by Artawan are dramatic studies of himself being tattooed upon his left forearm. Enormous 150cm by 200cm compositions describing the creative process, they are powerfully graphic images not for the faint-hearted. ‘Endorphin Release #1’ is a close-up of the tattoo artist at work. Bright red fresh tones provide the initial assault of visual gore. At the same time, the white-gloved hand administering the tattooing tool is smeared with Artawan’s blood. ‘Endorphin #2’ depicts the tattoo studio, including a description of a table complete with the tools of the trade. The most stunning facet of the composition is the colourful image upon Artawan’s arm – his imagined internal make-up of robotic components and human anatomical structures.

Find Dodit on Instagram @doditartawan

Find Richard Horstman, Bali art expert, at and on Instagram @lifeasartartasia

Richard Horstman

Richard Horstman

NOW! Bali Art Columnist, Richard Horstman. For over fifteen years Richard has been contributing to national and regional newspapers and magazines writing about art and culture. He is passionate about observing and reporting on developments in the local art and creative infrastructure, and the exciting emerging talent that is flourishing in Bali. IG: @lifeasartasia