The Art of Erica

Erica Hestu Wahyuni, born in Yogyakarta, Java in 1971. Erica started painting in primary school, joining a children’s drawing club (Sanggar Katamsi), which was taught by Suharto PR and Herry Wibowo – Both established painters. Erica is hailed as one of the most promising artists from Indonesia. She studied painting at the prestigious Indonesian Fine Art Institute in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Surikov Institute of Art, Russia.

Erica’s paintings are usually unpretentious expressions of herself and they reflect her experiences and interests. Her art may be childlike, but they are certainly not simplistic. Her paintings—which would immediately remind one of children art—have become a recognizable trademark. Her art was a culmination of the style of children’s art, which she was developed since her childhood days. At a very young age, she had won eighteen art competitions on local and national level. Therefore it was natural for her to develop her own style.

Each work contains interesting narrative qualities, which reveal the worldview of the artist. Erica’s naive, playful renditions have ascertained her reputation as one of the most sought-after contemporary artists in South East Asia. Her art works genuinely expresses who she is and reflects her life experience and interests. The work may be naïve, but it is never as simple as it seems.  Each piece of art contains an interesting story that not only amuses audience, but presents the artist’s world conception as well.

"The source of my painting comes from daily situations and phenomena, dreams or just only imaginations. My paintings have styles of sketches of children, and from them I find much impression of plainness, freedom, and what so ever. Cheerful and modest situation around my life can complete everything all in paintings, making my paintings can grow, live and perform as what they are."

Erica Hestu Wahyuni

Erica currently addopts the concept of a dairy for her paintings. She would treat her paintings as hfer kind of diary, and hence could continue her process of artistic development freely. She could express her feelings, whether it is sad, happy or angry. In many of Erica’s paintings, there are themes that suggest an extreme alliance or friendship-without being mystical—between the human world with the life of flora and fauna, a kind of sensitivity towards natural environment-a theme that is actually seldom featured in our art world.

Animals have always been one of Erica’s favorite subject matters. Elephants are undeniably her favorites animals, which appears in more of her canvasses. Erica started to paint elephants of various kinds, positions, forms and colors. “I love to paint elephants because they look cute and on the other hand they are also majestic,” Erica’s said. Next to elephants, Erica’s second and third favorite animals is cat and cow. Animals often become personifications of her own self.

She seems to animate everything around her. A television set, jars, dolls, bottles, birdcages, chairs all seem to become living creatures that appear with strong emotional relationships. In her works, all dead things could seem alive, radiating warmness, or even appear with certain emotional bursts. Since her second solo exhibition at 2001, she developed her art works through the main themes of her subject matter: the animal world, mythologies and fantasies, scene of daily life, her own family life, as well as her own personal development and psyche in search for her identity.

When she was studying in the college, she became inspired by the works of such artists as Surono, which she studied at the institute, particularly the artist’s Ketoprak (1950). She made her own composition with her own style that reappeared in Nonton Ketoprak (1989). In terms of expression and spontaneity, the works do appear to have the strong influence of Nyoman Gunarsa (her mentor while she was a student). She became interested in the works of Ralph Fasanella, the American folk artist was known for his depiction of working class and urbanscapes of the neighborhoods in which they live. Her paintings Home Sweet Home I and II (1993) clearly reflect Fasanella’s influence. She cleverly combines urbanscapes with interiors of certain house. In these paintings she even creates a progression of space. From a neighborhood, through a gateway typical of Yogyakarta, viewers enter interior of a house. The interior no longer merely two-dimensional. Rather, it is treated with a simple single point perspective. Above the house, other buildings appear under the moonlight, in aflattened two dimensional composition.

In Erica’s works, many subjects are presented on the canvas presenting a compact and crowded arrangement. Seldom does Erica feature a subject that has its own story; within the forms that she paints, there are other forms, within scenes there are other scenes. Erica claims that her crowded, busy paintings, done with technique that she calls “pointilist”. Although already filled with various scenes, her paintings still give the impression that only a fragmented of the complete story can be seen on the canvas. Typically, Erica depicts her own experiences in scenes that feature main characters within extremely busy environments. She takes interest in the scenes’ surroundings, painting them with great detail. Erica animates the objects in the surroundings to make them become part and parcel of the subject matter of the work. She uses simple deformed shapes and brilliant primary colors to further enhance the sense of animation, and as a result her paintings appear to be fun. The brilliant colors the she uses further brighten up her paintings, making them even more enjoyable. Erica is, if you will, art’s most playful child.