Recent Paintings by Kokok P. Sancoko
"Nature and abstract forms are both materials
for art, and the choice of one or the other flows
from historically changing interests”.
― Meyer Schapiro
The sophistication of the paintings of Yogyakarta based artist Kokok P. Sancoko is remarkable. The subject matter of his body of work, captured in images such as flowers or vegetables have compelled him to a dichotomy of art critique reviews: the works are depicted either as “simply” decorative and frivolous, or interpreted as the density of theoretical consideration afflictions. I consider that Sancoko’s paintings reveal historical issues related to art critic Meyer Shapiro, who believes that “Nature and abstract forms are both materials for art, and the choice of one or the other flows from historically changing interests”(1).
Probably, those paintings bring our minds to the works of an American female painter in the early 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe. The images on her paintings present figurative reconstructions of large-sized flowers, surely not the examples of botanical illustrations, but media for O’Keefee to declare pure expression. Her expression is about reflections on natural phenomena or personal emotions in symbols functioning as permanent primary references (2). Are Sancoko’s paintings similar to these ones? I believe they are not, but it does not mean that they do not correlate to each other. As in Schapiro’s statement, we can understand different subjects of interest which change throughout history. Sancoko reconstructs flowers or vegetables through a graphic computer program before processing them as paintings. The difference on the working system not only shows the difference of their historical time (Sancoko lives in the era of advanced digital machinery technology), but also splits up the difference of subjects of interest between them.
The abstraction complexities of figures on Sancoko’s paintings, are concerned with a close issue of “strategy of representation” pioneered by Paul Cézanne. According to this, the battle of meanings of a painting has power over evaluation parameter on a canvas in the capacity to produce a “visual truth”. Cézanne perceives the truth foundation in nature as an ideal model(3). In this definition, painting is a space, a laboratory for productive investigations and experiments moving away from literal spaces of modern life experiences. Artists and art critics in Cézanne´s time highlighted that before him every one thought that paintings were merely issues on images. But, Cézanne's paintings, as articulated by Denis were “an act of concrete beauty, and our sense must discover in the work of art itself ―abstraction made of the subject represented― an immediate satisfaction, a pure aesthetic pleasure”(4). In short, Cézanne’s works launched a series of discussions on the autonomy of signs and colors and manipulation of oil application on canvases.
Thorough reviews on Cezanne’s paintings describe more fundamental issues in the tradition of visual arts development. His method resulting in the effect of “opaque” color characters on canvases has made him the pioneer of modernist movement in arts. In the discourse about painting, the fundamental opposition between classic and modernist representation model lies on the issue of transparency character owned by the classic representation model; and opacity character owned by the modernist-inclined representation. This description implies that the transparency character on painting is considered functioning to synchronize an image surface to be made of immaterial objects ― regarded as a metaphoric statement manifestation or a kind of window for the reality to perform ― and make the visible objects on canvases as if they were located on the reverse side. This is also understood as the world of traditional image representation. Meanwhile, the character of solid painting surface presents what is called “plane” effect and shows in an accurate way the performance of an object in its materiality, so that it does not inherently include any hidden imagination character(5). To sum up, a painting with figure abstractions is estimated to be competent in exploring beyond the image, as stated by Denis, and rules as a vehicle for exploration on aesthetic issues.
For me, Kokok P. Sancoko’s paintings reveal several captivating notes. Reflecting on the attitude of O’Keeffe and Cézanne, Sancoko takes nature into account as an important turning point. It inspires him to articulate main issues on a specific strategy of representation. However, being different from the solid painting character of Cézanne, Sancoko prefers to do figure abstractions in a transparent way. His work differs from O´Keefes approach sticking to intuitive responses and sudden effects, even keeping a distance with the object analysis of Cezanne. Sancoko uses the “machined” (graphic computer) planning mechanism to reconstruct natural objects. In fact, Sancoko keeps on connecting the natural ideas to figure abstraction complexities in the painting tradition. Beautifully, he connects these abstraction complexities and process of machined (digital computer) automation with the complexities of grids on his canvases ― although these are thin but significant. “Grid”, as cited by Rosalind E. Krauss “is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature”(6). For Krauss, grids construct “flattened, geometricized and ordered” effects and can be even taken as antinatural, antimimetic and antireal. Grids do not only produce direct efficiency effects, but are also barriers which separate visual arts expression in its representation, exclusively from various interpretation and in dialogues(7). Thus, Sancoko’s paintings represent natural complexities by combining transparent but efficient characters of image effects in the construction of grids.
The subject matter of Sancoko’s paintings are the outcomes of disentanglement and separation of color and light effects upon images (flowers or vegetables) through the assistance of digital machinery so that they produce distinctive definite figures. Sancoko continues the imagination of the “ideal model” of nature (Cézanne and O’Keffee had ever imagined it) in the time of digital technology and automation model of artificial intelligence (AI). He relates the abstraction complexities and digitalized colors to grid complexities regarded as mythical. Krauss says that “(t)he grid’s mythic power is that it makes us able to think we are dealing with materialism (or sometimes science, or logic) while at the same time it provides us with a release into belief (or illusion, or fiction)”(8). The length among the times of Kokok P. Sancoko, Cézanne and O'Keeffe has resulted in perception complexities about nature in a different way; furthermore, it even depicts the circumstances of perception and its own definition on nature in a broader sense. In fact, Sancoko lives upon a distinctive nature prevailing in parallel to the establishment and development of visual reality and hyperreality environment. The “ideal model” of nature encountered by Sancoko at present is especially the produced and reproduced environments using digital technology. For Sancoko, the use of digital technology machinery as a method of painting planning is not only seen as a technical preference but also as a self-reaction against his living environment model.
After all, Sancoko keeps working on his canvases and confronts his work in a set of issues related painting creation. What he deals with is not a direct object model but an image reality produced by machinery and digital technology (he takes the pictures of flowers or vegetables first and then processes the outcomes through a graphic computer program). I believe, Sancoko is aware of the reality he is confronted with. For instance, he does not possess a comprehension guarantee upon the reality he is facing. In his book The Vision Machine, Paul Virilio says that ""image” is just an empty word here since the machine’s interpretation has nothing to do with normal vision. For the computer, the optically active electron image is merely a series of coded impulses whose configuration we cannot begin to imagine since, in this "automation of perception’’, image feedback is no longer assured”(9).
The complexities on Sancoko’s paintings is not about replacing those digital images but creating them to be the representation models recalling our experiences. At the same time, we see them as a meaning of intentional experience structures. Those paintings become the windows for transparent representations and occur as the models of material figure abstractions. The process outcomes of ‘automation of perception’ functioning as further models of figure reconstruction is performed by Sancoko as the phase for medium and color explorations, which are at the same time transparent and abstract. Sancoko acts toward an outcome on colors, models and textures coming through sensorial experiences before identifying them as certain objects (the figures of flowers or vegetables) to be the manifestation of profound and disclosed interactions, so that they turn out to be our intentional experiences(10).
Responding to the issue of dichotomy, mentioned above, whether those paintings are simply decorative or even theoretical, I think Sancoko himself will not agree with the idea of being part of any of these considerations. I consider that, moving beyond such dichotomy of reviews, the essential part of his works are the outcomes of our own interaction upon them. I assume that those paintings manage to provide directions for other experiences we deal with. Theoretically, those works have suggested a materialized broad understanding obtained from the reality on painting surfaces. Jean-Luc Nancy calls such capacity as “transactional capacity” of a painting(11). It gives a framefork for the emergence of meanings of an otherness, which genuinely appears in our experiences. “Flowers” or “vegetables” on Sancoko's paintings, therefore, are merely names.
- Rizki A. Zaelani
Translated by Camelia Tri Lestari
Editing: Katerina Valdivia Bruch
2. Jack Cowart, "Georgia O'Keeffe, Art and Letters", http://www.artchive.com/artchive/O/okeefe.html
3. Johana Drucker, Representation of Modern Life: Space to Spectacle, in THEORIZING MODERNISM: Visual Art abd The Critical Tradition (New York: Colombia University Press: 1994), h.38.
4. Maurice Denis, “Cezanne”, Burlington Magazine 16 (January 1910), p. 207-219 ; originally published in L’Occident (September 1907). Excerpted in Francina and Harrison, Modern Art and Modernism. p. 58-59.
5. James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Boston: ___ , 1979), p.33.
6. Rosalind E. Krauss, “Grids”, in The Originality of the Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths ( Cambridge – Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), p.9.
8. Ibid, p.12.
9. Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.73.
10. This definition is the explanation on the phenomenological comprehension model as illustrated by Merleau-Ponty. See. Clive Cezeaux, “Merleau-Ponty”, in The Continental Aesthetics Reader, ed. Clive Cezeaux (New York – London: Routledge, 2000), page 76.
11. lht. David Moos, Introduction: Model Thought, dlm Dr. Andreas C Papadakis, ed, ART & DESIGN Journal: Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, (London: Academy Group Ltd, 1996), hlm. 7.