|Perhaps one of the most exciting new global contemporary art scenes is Indonesia, where surprising risks are being taken by artists who are interested in merging Indonesian artistic traditions with Western currents in art practice. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bold minimalist abstractions of artist Hansen Thiam Sun, also known by the one-word moniker, “Hansen.” A Borneo-born artist, Hansen spent many years living in the West, and draws on both traditions in his work. After serving as an apprentice to the painter, Lim Ngok Chung in the late 60s, he went on to study mechanical design in Taipei, Taiwan. After university, he spent time in Connecticut, where he designed yachts and continued to cultivate his personal artistic practice, studying under his mentor, an American architect and painter named Georgian.|
Perhaps one of the most exciting new global contemporary art scenes is Indonesia, where surprising risks are being taken by artists who are interested in merging Indonesian artistic traditions with Western currents in art practice. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bold minimalist abstractions of artist Hansen Thiam Sun, also known by the one-word moniker, “Hansen.” A Borneo-born artist, Hansen spent many years living in the West, and draws on both traditions in his work. After serving as an apprentice to the painter, Lim Ngok Chung in the late 60s, he went on to study mechanical design in Taipei, Taiwan. After university, he spent time in Connecticut, where he designed yachts and continued to cultivate his personal artistic practice, studying under his mentor, an American architect and painter named Georgian. It was in the U.S. that he first started developing his personal style, one denoted by his characteristic gestural and spontaneous mark-making. It was also at this time that he formed an interest in American painting styles, including Abstraction Expressionism and Minimalism. He returned to Indonesia in 1990, where he still lives today, armed with an arsenal of new theoretical knowledge and artistic experiences from another continent.
Based in Bali since 2003, Hansen’s artistic interests reside in the purity and beauty of the natural environment of his homeland. He intends his work to reflect the subtle and varied forces and energies of life itself. Considered a pioneer of Minimalism in Indonesia, his work is a compelling hybrid of both Eastern and Western influences. For instance, the dichotomy evident in his splashy marks between freedom and discipline echo Chinese calligraphy practices, while his rectilinear compositional sub-surfaces are reminiscent of the minimalist grid. Both the elements of western modernism and Asian tradition work together in dynamic tension to render a sense of active harmony. He also notes how traditional printing methods have been used in China for centuries, and relates this fact to the emergence of the Pop-Art movement as a direct outgrowth of this Chinese influence. For Hansen, “globalization” is perhaps one of the most significant developments of our time, and he aims to represent this socioeconomic phenomenon—especially as is currently happening between Asia and America—through paint.
His works are notable in their innovate employment of multiple media, for instance, his use of both acrylic and oil on the same canvas. He also utilizes collage. Despite his mainly abstract work, he maintains figurative elements, and is not afraid to mix approaches and styles, sometimes combining abstract components, figuration, and even text in a work. In fact, Hansen has been breaking boundaries throughout his entire career. Advocating abstraction in Indonesia at a time when it was not popular, he forged forward with his personal vision. Hansen’s commitment to Abstraction is a testament the fact that Abstraction exists not only in the West; Indonesia also has its own form of Abstraction. Hansen’s last exhibition at Cemara 6 gallery in 2007, truly fulfilled all his theories of Abstraction, and has let to a new direction within his work toward contemporary concepts and issues, which can be seen in recent works Child Abuse and Global Warming.
Hansen’s interest in the natural environment is most evidenced by his personal gallery called “the Hansen Gallery.” It is here that he houses his accomplished collection in his studio-home. Located in the Gianyar district, the gallery displays not just his work, but also his collection of artifacts including 12th-century Buddhist figures, jade carvings, an ancient Koran, and other antique ornamental art works. He believes in the power of ancient tradition, as well its role of reminding us of where we came from in today’s modern society. The welcoming, two-story structure shares much in common with the natural, spiritual quality of his paintings. The entire building is made of natural materials such as stone, bamboo, and earthen walls, with views of a sculpture garden and rice paddies in the distance. It provides the perfect sanctuary for the creation of art work that deals with the harmony and balance found in nature.
Several of his abstract expressionist works express just that: the balance of nature. Through the artifice of abstraction we can see a landscape: earth, water, and sky. Take Movement from 2007 for example. This mixed-media-on-canvas work depicts a split ground divided by a sharp horizon-like line, one half, sky blue and the other, jet black. This ground is overlaid with a motif of octagonal geometric shapes at the bottom, and a dance-like gestural splash of black over a scrubbed-out pink form, both hovering above the “horizon.” References to natural energy forces abound in this work, whose title is reinforced by the energetic gestures of the pain strokes. Even more evocative of the natural world is Morning, a color study of the light of that time of day. Awash in rich oranges and peaches, juxtaposed against warm grays and flung-on chocolates, this image is a powerful vision of the hours on the cusp between waking and dreaming. Sailing, a nod to his love for boats and yachting from his days in Connecticut, is composed of a patchwork crimson ground penetrated from the bottom right-hand corner by a white hook-like shape. The opposite corner is filled with a dark amorphous area and a yellow square with a red line drawing. The equally enigmatic and energetic 90% Full depicts a black horizontal bar and a white horizontal bar, into which a linear bottle shape plunges. Meanwhile, the top portion of the canvas is silvery gray, with blocks of white and areas of bronze, violated by dashes of black floating on top. Such works affirm the life force, and achieve a true dynamic tension.
One of Hansen’s most recent series takes us full circle, from Abstraction to Pop representation (and let us not forget that even representation is a form of abstraction). He uses this style as a modality to explore political issues and current events. This series excavates the notion of the modern Asian woman, in its depiction of chic women juxtaposed against patterned backgrounds of Chinese calligraphy. Such works not only question the role of women in contemporary Asia, but also continue to push stylistic boundaries. Another recent series entitled Who Wears the White Glove? tackles another hot-bed political issue: human rights abuses. In particular, it was inspired by the unsolved murder of a local activist. Though his most recent series deal with current events, Hansen does plan to return to his interior life, the spiritual, and the abstract in the near future.
From Minimalism to Abstraction, traditional Indonesian art to Pop art, and East to West, Hansen absorbs these influences to produce hybrid forms that delve into a variety of content issues that are essential to contemporary theoretical and aesthetic discourses both in America and Indonesia. Who knew the most significant place for East to meet West would be on an artist’s canvas?