Zola Zolu Gallery
Zola Zolu Gallery

Talking Point
, Vol. 13, March 2013

I really had to look twice when I first saw the work of Chairul Satria Sabarudin (a.k.a. Iroel). At first sight, the image I saw on a Facebook group for CP enthusiasts could not have been rendered in CP - could it? If it really was, I had to find out a bit more about its creator!

Unsure whether I would get a reply or not - I sent off a private message via FB to an artist I’d never met or even heard of before and who lived on the other side of the world in Indonesia. Within a day or so I had received a reply in English and my curiosity was both satisfied and stimulated in equal measure. I thought that my own work on wooden panels was big (certainly compared with much other CP art)! But my work looks like that of a miniaturist by comparison to Iroel’s magnificent work in CP on canvas. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to answer my questions and for supplying the images that accompany this ‘e-interview’. This article starts with information drawn from Iroel’s website.

I hope you are as excited and stimulated as I was by seeing this wonderful work.

Text by Editor

Iroel was born in Malang, Indonesia, 44 years ago, into a simple family. His father was in the Indonesian Air Force and his mother is a housewife. It did not occur to him that he would want to become a doctor, policeman, pilot or teacher when he grew up - and being a painter was equally far from his mind. However, ever since he was a little kid, aeroplanes and helicopters did not attract him. Instead, he was very fond of looking at pictures.

Since his fourth year in elementary school, he liked to draw human stick figures on the walls of his house. His drawing ability continued to grow naturally, and at last he produced his first proper drawing. This was a portrait of his late father drawn in scale with the help of grids similar to the maps that he used to draw for geography class. Undeterred by the limited quality of charcoal that was available to him at that time, he stuck with the medium since it was important for him to create a precise drawing that achieved faithfulness to the subject. Since the first year of junior high school, he began to draw portraits of world leaders. His friends in senior high school were stunned by his artistry - and they were willing to part with their pocket money to have Iroel draw their portrait or that of other members of their family.

This experience taught an important lesson for Iroel early in his life. Seeing that he could gain an income from his skill, he was determined to improve himself. Not satisfied with the opportunities offered by his schoolmates, he began to produce greeting cards with his own hand and sold them on the sidewalk, in front of the “Toko Riang”, near the now defunct Merdeka Cinema in Malang.

“The first time I sold my paintings there, I was afraid that my schoolmates would find out. So I wore a hat and lowered it to cover my face. But they eventually found me out.” Iroel said.

He began to realize that drawing and painting could become a serious occupation for him when he watched the television news (in 1981 there was only one channel, the government-owned TVRI) and saw that one of his friends had won an international art contest held by UNICEF. “If he can draw well, why can't I?” he thought.

Art Department in IKIP Malang, he started his career in Bali. In 2004, he worked as full-time portrait artist in the Sol Melia Hotel, Bali. Despite having a ‘secure’ employment in Bali, before the end of his contract, he went back home to be reunited with his beloved wife and children. He'd rather become a professional artist in his hometown. “It's more challenging”, he said. He chose coloured pencil as his medium of choice because it lends a unique characteristic to his works.

Initially, things did not turn out very well for him. In Malang, Iroel had to take extra work as a grilled chicken vendor. Luckily, this man with two daughters developed a sort of liking and even a bit of talent for cooking and his eight month “career” as a food vendor was not particularly hard for him.

In the meantime, he diligently exhibited his works in many exhibitions in various cities. It took quite some time until at last his paintings began to receive attention from collectors. From then on, fortune began to smile on him and he signed a contract with a renowned gallery in Bandung, ZOLA ZOLU.

In his humble studio (in the front room of his house) the man whom many usually greet as “Iroel” works steadily - mixing colours into his canvasses. Often becak (tricycle) drivers, bakso (meatball) vendors, vegetable hawkers and school children will stop to take a look or even enter his studio to witness the creation of his canvasses. “It's like having a solo exhibition here. All sorts of people can come or simply take a look to appreciate my works. Whoever they are, I always welcome them,” he said. Most likely when one sees this man with his thin moustache, they will think that he is a government employee or a white-collar worker. It may come as a surprise that this man with a peaceful demeanour and friendly disposition is an artist - a coloured pencil artist.

TP : Please let me know a little more about yourself. How long have you been an artist?

Iroel : I live at Jl. Genuk Watu Barat II no. 95, Malang 65122, East Java, INDONESIA. I am now 44 years old and I have been working only in arts since 2005. Previously I worked as a portrait artist in Bali.

TP : Have you had a formal training in art?

Iroel : I graduated from Institute of Teacher Training and Education of Malang (IKIP-Malang), majoring in Arts and Crafts. Most of the graduates of this institute are teachers or educators, but I choose to be an artist.

TP : Why did you start to use coloured pencils for your work?

Iroel : For my drawing, I intentionally choose coloured pencil because I think pencil is easier to use, odourless, not dirty, and it does not need large space to keep. Therefore, I only draw using coloured pencil.

TP : What brand of pencils do you prefer?

Iroel : The coloured pencil I use is always Derwent - because this brand has the most options of colours and types. I usually use 6 types, namely Artist, Studio, Drawing, Coloursoft, Water Colour, & Aquatone.

TP : What made you decide to make such large work? Do you find it easier (or more satisfying) to make large work?

Iroel : I draw in big sizes because very few artists are willing to draw big/large sizes, especially when using sharp media. It is a challenging yet fun experience for me to draw big unusual sizes. I even have a plan to work on a 15 metre sized piece. For this work, I have designed the drawing and I just need to wait for the perfect moment to put it on canvas. I will be very happy if there is anyone willing to be the sponsor (He he he! Just kidding!). Anyway, I think every size of painting has its own challenge; the big and small sizes are both with different challenges. In doing big sizes I need extra patience (also a lot of water drink for stamina). The main reason for me to do big sizes is the fun and joy I find in doing so. Another reason is that nowadays very few artists do big paintings with colour pencils.

TP : What surface do you use for your large works? How do you prepare the surface?

Iroel : Currently I am not working on small sizes - the smallest I am doing now is 1 x 2 metres. All of my drawings are on canvas. Prior to the drawing, the canvas needs to be processed - layered with gesso which has been mixed with wood glue. This is to keep the canvas flexible and not easily cracked. After being primed in this way, the canvas needs to be gently scrubbed so that the surface looks like a drawing paper.

TP : Where do your ideas come from?

Iroel : There are a lot of ideas influencing my drawings, one of which is my admiration of God’s creations that cannot be imitated by human beings. I only make the drawings - which are far from the perfection of God’s creations. Regarding the idea of human interest as the main theme of my drawings, I usually take pictures from my surrounding as the real portrayals of my environment.

For the drawings of beautiful women, I took most of the pictures from free websites (open source) that I adapt to the composition of my intended drawing using Photoshop software. When I am happy with the composition, I put it on canvas.

TP : Are these large works commissioned or do you make them and then seek a buyer or gallery?

Iroel : I am very happy to know that now a lot of people love my drawings, and they buy my drawings. Currently I work with a gallery, Zola Zolu Gallery. I am an artist who is not good enough to have a business to sell my drawings myself. So, I work with this gallery who arrange the selling, including the promotion, of my drawings.

TP : How do you arrive at the finished design?

Iroel : As I mentioned earlier, I usually design the picture using Photoshop software. However, it does not inhibit my freedom to express myself on canvas. There are things that cannot be done with computers - that is the main difference between artists and machines.

TP : What other artists have influenced you? Do you teach other artists? Is there a strong tradition of figurative art in Indonesia?

Iroel : not to mention Gabriel Moreno, Gustav Klimt, Van Gogh, and many more. They influence the way I draw and work on arts. I do not formally teach artists, but I share my knowledge with others, especially those who use coloured pencils. Currently, I also teach at a kindergarten - teaching little kids how to draw using coloured pencils. I do this because I really love children and love playing with them.

In Indonesia there are a lot of artists both figurative and non-figurative. They use different kinds of media as well. I am only part of the large figurative art community in my country.

Iroel produces a very large volume of work and, in addition to his large works on canvas, also does rather more conventional work on paper. “Sleeping and Smiling” (women working in the market) and “Nap #1” (the sleeping becak driver) are examples of this work - although they are still pretty large compared to the majority of CP pictures we are accustomed to seeing in our own UKCPS exhibitions!

Iroel’s website is very well stocked with images of his work including sequence taken at various exhibitions in Malang showing the large canvas works in frames and in a contemporary gallery environment.

I really encourage you to spend a bit of time roaming around Iroel’s website and taking in the sheer scale of his output.

Please click the picture to view the actual article

Iroel Iroel Iroel Iroel