Characters In Search of An Artist

By: Grace Micah Oreiro

Just when we thought the evolution of the absurd was groping the very essence of realism, now come the paintings of Roby Dwi Antono which aim to accentuate a different kind of reality—the human emotion.

The dreamy eloquence of his works pulls people into a trance of whimsical revelations. Antono’s dreamy-yet-insidious, cute-yet-unnerving works resonate with a wider audience, as evidenced by his immense social media following and his much raved about exhibitions recently in Jakarta and Tokyo.

Having an extensive background in graphic art and design, he depicts through his rich, smooth, color-infused brushstrokes a perceived vibrancy of emotional depth which his characters gravitate towards. Be it rabbits or little girls or various marine species, Antono’s works reevaluate the popular culture of these identities. He concocts a world where furry creatures stare at the viewer not for play, where children are swamped with morbidity, and greeneries bloom with the idea of death.

And this is his story; set in a new land and inhabited by a set of characters uniquely of his choosing.


These white furry mammals prancing around Antono’s works highlight the artist’s surreal vision. Their solemn gazes through blood-shot eyes clearly redefine the meaning of cute. As one of his most prominent characters, Antono’s rabbits depict heavy grief balanced by the adorable visual. The artist’s intention is to “share and visually expose the sadness that people have experienced, especially sadness that is related to death.” The rabbits prove more than pets for Antono. They are perfect manifestations of what true disguises are—sadness inside a shell of beauty, grief inside a plethora of rebirth, and loss within the realm of impermanence.

In his recent solo exhibit, Januari di Utara (January in the North), the rabbits appear as melancholic creatures that depart from that familiar feeling of domesticated bliss. Whether they pick out teeth, casually slice a crocodile for their meal, or stand waiting with a bowl filled with blood, these rabbits capture the essence of loneliness and pain, offsetting the gross portrayal of the scene.

Antono’s rabbits are the most popular of his artistic characters – his springboard to a surrealistic pedestal—so to speak. The brilliant combination of two polar subjects, the sad and the cute, successfully amplifies the purpose of why sadness does not always have to be so blunt.


The little girl is another fundamental character in Antono’s whimsical wonderland. Referred to as his “alter ego,” this little girl earns the limelight in most of his artworks. Subtly, albeit consistently, this little girl is a contemplative representation for the human collective experiencing marked feelings of emptiness. In his 2015 digital painting series, The Faces, eight little girls dominate the story. The expressions of their faces seemingly radiate a sense of familiarity with the sorrows and negativities that girls should not even be exposed to. Their firm countenance is founded upon the artist’s aspiration for an “innocent and sinless childhood.”

However, their seeming naïveté (just like the rabbits) ultimately deviates from the initial impression. Decapitations in various forms loom over the fate of some of these little girls, overpowering these innocents. His Blood and Soil (2015) painting is a straightforward manifestation of this sympathy-inducing emotion—successfully underscoring the power of the artist to captivate and elicit empathy from his audience.


Despite the subtle introduction of an atmosphere of desolation, Antono seemingly redeems his artworks’ themes by injecting the concept of rebirth and hope through his verdant representations. In works such as The Way of Grace, lush flora spurts out from ostensibly lifeless creatures. This attribution to life that comes out from death positions his pieces within a cyclical context that further exemplifies his conceptual skill. These joyful revelations, be it through graphite or oil, clutches onto the idea of continuity despite endings—a hopeful paradox that is typically encased in surrealistic philosophy. Life and death is a common theme in his works, exploring the delicate balance that surrealist artists must address. These ideas especially work best with Antono’s superb control of colors and proportion.


Just when his characters could not get any more surreal, the members of the animal kingdom swarm and stamp their presence throughout Antono’s nuanced universe. Crabs, octopuses, crocodiles, and various insects, even including an occasional dinosaur scatter to complement the stories of his protagonists. Fueled with their own narratives, these creatures, these stand as associate symbols to every artwork’s main plot: a man with a crab claw head portrays a father leading a prayer for his deceased son, an octopus representing the mysterious future, and even dinosaurs standing as witnesses to the unfolding of Antono’s world.

Antono’s diversity of characters ultimately establishes him as visual storyteller unlike any other. Each character he paints plays a significant role in narrating his emotional journey. Every character is an indispensible part of an evolving story that leads to a statement about the pain and beauty of death, as well as the absurdity and awesomeness of life.


Antono now tells his story to Filipinos for the first time in an unprecedented exhibit at Galerie Stephanie in partnership with Srisasanti Syndicate (Yogyakarta, Indonesia). In his latest exhibit titled Southern Monster, Northern Child, he introduces elements drawn from his psyche and native roots. Presented are two sets of characters representing the artist’s inner binaries: monsters for his negative side, and the children to symbolize his fondness for the joy of life. The depiction of north and south harnesses the idea of a universal life direction where north is the usual guide point of the definitive ideal destination, i.e., “finding north”, or the idea of the Northern Star. Hence, north in combination with his child figures encapsulates his captivation for the joys and purities in life.

Moreover, the artworks place Ambarawa (Antono’s birthplace) as the background setting. Incorporating one’s roots further shapes his ideals as an artist. This also fittingly plays with idea of north and south, especially when Ambarawa is located in Central Java—the midpoint between the artist’s own north and south.

Southern Monster, Northern Child also presents Antono’s interest in the value of human interaction, man being part of a community and constantly having to openly adapt one’s self into the lives of others.


What inspires you to pursue pop surrealistic themes?

It all begun when I was very young, as I like to have my own imagination on things around me. Then I grew up and worked as an illustrator, a job that forced me to keep my imagination and creative thinking going. Also, when I first started to paint, I was influenced by Mark Ryden. After that, I thought that I would continue my work on pop surrealistic theme (and, yeah, even until this point of time!).

At what point in your life did you decide that you were going to pursue art for a living?

I can’t remember for sure, but I had my own interest in visual art since I was a kid. When I was a kid I had participated in several painting competitions. Even when I had never won any prize, that would not change anything. I still kept my interest in visual art.

The funny thing is that when I was kid, I never had a plan/dream to be an artist (I even didn’t understand what kind of job a painter does!). By the time I grew up, I still loved to draw (I studied at a vocational school with concentration on graphic design). After that, I also worked at a creative agency, until I got my first experience to do my solo exhibition at Tirana House Boutique Yogyakarta. I exhibited some drawings and my only (and first, at that time) painting there. I think that’s my turning point. I thought that I should support my passion, and that’s when I decided to learn more about Fine Art.

What do you think makes your artworks appeal to so many people?

I don’t know to be honest, because I left the judgement part to the audience of my works; they are the right ones who may value my works. Perhaps because my work is under surrealism theme, which requires some ‘involvement’ from the audience; my works always tend to make people curious because every objects have their own ‘message’. The objects themselves can be cute/fun character that in the same time might look creepy/mysterious.

The people that usually talked with me about my works usually have their own interpretation and imagination on the works. Sometimes they also showed their enthusiasm to know more about my own ‘imagination’. Somehow when we’re comparing my imagination with theirs, at the end I feel that their interpretation is even deeper than mine.

If you were to make a totally different style from what you are doing now, what do you think it would be?

I have been thinking about it, and actually I already have some ideas that will be entirely new. I believe in the process, and also in experiencing new things. I can imagine that there will be a possibility of me creating artworks with a whole different technique and concept, compared to my works at the moment. However, until that time comes, there’s nothing I can be certain of. Because like what I’ve said before, it’s a ‘flowing’ process. I still have a lot to explore at the moment, before I believe that I can present you something that is entirely different.

What are the challenges in making your art and how do you overcome them?

The main challenge is preparing the artwork concept, I believe that I still got to learn many things related to artwork concept formulation. Technical aspect is another thing; sometimes I am dissatisfied with the visual end result of my works, they are still far from perfect. How do I overcome the first challenge? Reading and looking for as much reference as possible (especially the one related to my works) is vital. I often read or look at clips of other artists when they are sharing their thoughts and artwork concept. Discussing my findings with friends is also helpful. For perfecting the visual end-result of my works, I think the solution is just keep on doing what I am doing and strive to do it with my best. I’m in the middle of a lifelong process, so I also need to be more patient before I can find out my own perfect technique.

Do your characters have “secret lives” outside the painting?

I think so. They are all the fruits of my imagination, which relates mainly to my family life.

What do you look forward to achieving in your career as an artist?

Being an artist, I feel some anxiety that I want to clear up once and for all. So, I will keep learning and doing better on my work. I realize that there are still so many things that I can dig up.

The exhibition will be held from September 25 – October 9, 2016 in Galerie Stephanie, Parc Plaza Bldg., 183 E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, C-5, Libis, Quezon City. For details please call 709-1488 or visit their website