The Peaceful Painter
The difficulties faced by children with famous parents are so universal there should be a special word to describe the situation.
Like ‘offspringomitis’ (an inflammation of problems encountered when Dad or Mom is in the public eye). It fits, but doesn’t have the right ring. Maybe schitzoneed – the condition of wanting, yet not wanting.
When the kid is young the benefits flow, particularly if the parent is financially successful and generous to his or her family. Later the name can become burdensome.
Koko Mozes knows the symptoms well. As the eldest son of renowned East Javanese painter Mozes Misdy he was always the little-noticed lad giving his father a hand stretching canvases, packing cases, squeezing tubes and generally keeping just out of frame.
Sometimes he ventured an opinion. Sometimes it was heard.
It was good apprenticeship because the boy was artistically talented. He wanted to learn and Dad was happy to teach, but the danger was obvious; whatever the youngster did it would always be compared with the art of the elder.
So for five years Koko worked as a photographer doing portraits, weddings and other commercial work. “I didn’t find this satisfying because photos are just a flat memory, not something that incites a reaction,” he said.
“So I turned back to art. I’ve learned so much from my father. We both work in oils. Now I have to make my own name.”
Having recently secured a commission to produce 300 original paintings to hang in restaurants and hotels in China, (the buyer saw his work in Surabaya) Koko is already achieving his goal, though he still helps his father prepare for exhibitions. The next is scheduled for Jakarta later this year, where Mozes senior is now working. .
But quantity doesn’t always equal quality, as his mother Fatimah reminded him. “He still needs maturity,” she said – and he agreed as a dutiful son should when his Mom sits in at an interview, pointing out that her husband has an international reputation, having exhibited in Australia, Thailand and Malaysia.
“Little by little,” Koko conceded, for some of his work is still dominated by Dad’s powerful brushwork.
Mozes’ small pictures start from US $800 (Rp 10 million). Now most buyers are Chinese, an indicator of where disposable incomes are currently centered along with (according to Koko) Indonesian indifference to art.
Much of Dad’s work isn’t just large, it’s wide-screen cinematic. Pairs of canvases, each up to four meters long are part of his speciality, designed to dominate a hall. It’s the sort of art loved by big business to hang in foyers and boardrooms, to make a statement about the company that has little to do with the product.
A picture of packets of paper clips or sacks of cement hardly enchants, but a panorama of beached boats or flowers can be restful and, according to Fatimah, assist in the negotiations. It’s all about mood, though money is the motivator.
And the rupiahs have certainly been running. Twelve years ago Mozes senior opened a lavish three-storey gallery hung with his awards, in Banyuwangi. This is the little town on the far east coast, better known as a ferry port for travellers heading in or out of Java, not a location to linger.
“When the gallery opened there were about 220 artists working and living here,” Koko said. “It was the high point and we had a thriving cultural community. Now there are only 20 left. They’ve scattered around Indonesia but most have gone to Bali.”
For that’s where the tourists head – 1.8 million in the past year – and not all are after the beaches and booze. Art is also a major attraction, with trends as fickle as food fads. A few years ago it was cats, then birds and fish. Demure maidens in batik seem perennial.
It’s a market Koko doesn’t want to enter. “I’ll stay in Banyuwangi and develop my own style, and make buyers happy,” he said.
“I want to be known as a peaceful painter, focusing on the environment, helping people understand what we’ve done – and what we are doing – to nature.”
For this he’s well placed. The region is heavily timbered, and not all of it plantations. There are two national parks - Baluran to the north and Alas Purwo on the peninsula of Blambangan. This is the name used when the Majapahit kingdom ruled more than 500 years ago.
The Kawah Ijen volcano with its spectacular smoking sulphur-lake caldera is nearby. It’s a favored spot for adventurous Europeans, but there’s no integration of the experience with local art and culture. This annoys Koko who argues that the local government should follow Yogyakarta’s example and promote Banyuwangi culture.
Although the area is drier than Central Java and in places looks more arid Australian than lush Indonesian, Koko prefers darker, less tropical greens that give his work a slight feel of mystery. His father favors pastels.
“I try to use my imagination rather than focus on a particular location,” he said. “I’m particularly concerned about damage to the environment. I like to think how the land looked before we started felling trees and building towns, before global warming.
“When I do put a man-made structure, like a cottage, into the landscape, it’s usually rotting and crumbling as nature recovers the space.”
By contrast his father often includes figures in his landscapes, usually relaxing after work, along with portraits of women, clothed and nude.
“My Indonesian hero is the late expressionist Affandi, and overseas, Van Gogh,” he said. “Even though I don’t want to live in the shadow of my father, it’s a good shadow to have.
“At the same time I don’t want people to look at my paintings and say –‘Ah, that’s Pak Mozes’. I hope they’ll say: ‘Look, a Pak Koko painting’.
“My father will be 72 this year yet he’s still seeking perfection. That’s also my aim, and I’m only 40.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post, 23 September 2013)