Jakarta: Muse for Artists

Of all the beautiful places in Indonesia, two expatriate artists have chosen Jakarta as their muse to create. By Salli Paradisio.

The Other Side, 2007, lithograph by Ken Pattern

Jakarta inspiration

While there are literally dozens of expat artists living and working in Bali aspiring to be the next Walter Spies et al., there are very few based in Jakarta. Two of those that have chosen Jakarta as their muse are Ken Pattern, from Canada, and H. Ross Weber, from the U.S.

H. Ross Weber

“I prefer chaotic Jakarta over those Bohemian resort towns,” American artist H. Ross Weber tells DA MAN, metaphorically comparing it to boxing and yoga. “Would you like to watch a person stretch their lower back while doing a yoga salutation to the sun or would you like to watch boxer Chris John … I prefer boxing. Jakarta is a boxing ring. Bohemian resort towns are a yoga mat.”

At heart, Weber says city life is part of him. “I have always lived in big cities—New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong and now Jakarta. They provide a vibrant energy that is contagious … I don’t want to live in an idyllic place where the most stimulating event of every day is a sunrise followed 12 hours later by a sunset. Cities provide simultaneously stimulating situations.” Weber’s art is largely focused on stylized versions of Wayang characters, which he believes can mirror aspects of society. “The artistry of the Indonesian puppet and mask makers is extraordinary … I am interested in not only the physical representation of the masks and puppets, but also in the manner in which Indonesian society exerts control over the individual.

The puppets and masks are symbolic of manipulation and secrecy.” He concludes with a dose of humility and reverence for his adopted country. “Indonesia offers many diverse situations. Though I have lived here for 15 years, I make no pretense at expertise on Indonesia. I will always be an observer …  the resiliency of the Indonesian people to endure hardship is impressive.” Be sure and check out Weber’s  exhibition entitled Indonesian Icons at the Four Seasons hotel in Jakarta until April 21, 2011.

Ken Pattern

When asked if the city itself is his muse, Ken Pattern exclaims to DA MAN, “Yes, absolutely yes. Jakarta has been and continues to be my muse. I love the anarchy of this crazy city, nothing is predictable and almost anything can happen … I love the buzz of street life.”

He ended up in Jakarta by accident in the early 1990s, accompanying his wife who was posted here on a one-year development contract. They fell for its warts-and-all charm and have remained ever since.

He adds, “Those of us who have been in Jakarta for a long time agree that it may not be a tourist paradise, but it is a good place (at least until total gridlock) to live and it is never dull. Jakarta has had a profound effect on my art and I continue to be inspired by it.”

In addition, he also explains that he feels a passion to document the rapid changes taking place. “In our rapidly changing global world, we are losing much of what defines a place and so, I began to record some of the changes I was witnessing. Some may consider that what I was/am recording and documenting has little historical or architectural significance, but, for me, these fast disappearing, uniquely Jakarta scenes are rich in social heritage. My aim is to show the traditional side of Jakarta life and to document the changes that have occurred and some of the impact on the people who have lived [through] the changes. There is usually a narrative in my work and I think of myself as a visual storyteller.”