Asia Scope

Frustration = Painting Numbers


Agus Purnomo, considered a rising young star in Indonesia’s abstract art scene, is going international–including to Tokyo, where his work is currently on display. His accolades already include the Nokia Art Award, the Jakarta Art Award in 2007 and being selected for the International Print and Drawing Biennale in Taiwan in 2006.

For some captivating details on Purnomo’s background, there’s no better person to turn to than Asian Collection gallery owner Robert Tobin. Tobin, who also goes by the moniker ‘Tokyo Art Guy’, explained to me recently how an ill-fated trip by Purnomo to the supermarket some years ago actually became the catalyst of the young artist’s career.

According to Tobin, after being overcharged for his groceries, Purnomo went back to the store to complain, but couldn’t get his money back. ‘He thought “everything is being reduced to numbers today”–and then took out his frustration on the canvas,’ Tobin told me. ‘At [that] time he did more figurative works [but] the irony is that the numbers in his work are now a way for us to rediscover our humanity.’

Tobin added that Purnomo uses his pieces to express a wide variety of emotions, and says the process is both cathartic and like a diary for him. Visitors also have said they find his work joyful and engaging.

And Tobin says some of his own assumptions have proven wrong when it comes to Purnomo’s art. ‘I thought they would be most popular with people in banking and finance–numbers people,’ he said. ‘But they’re much more universal. Some people don’t notice the numbers until we point it out.’

Purnomo’s work is currently on display at Asian Collection in Tokyo.