Roby Dwi Antono’s new T-Shirt capsule collection for Highsnobiety features drawings that look halfway between child drawings and graffiti. Quite literally, this style evolved from his own child drawings that Antono found in the middle of 2019, when he stumbled on old photos of himself in a kindergarten painting competition. “In those photos, I'm seriously just playing with oil crayons and oil pastels and scribbling them on a fairly large piece of paper,” he says. “It’s childrens doodle painting: disproportionate, irregular lines, imaginative, naive, and spontaneous.”
Earlier this year, his gallerist Shinji Nanzuka approached him to apply this style, mimicking oil pastels, onto large-scale canvas. This is part of Nanzuka’s long-standing commitment to bringing in vernacular or naive styles sometimes associated with outsider art into a gallery context.
Nanzuka, and his influential gallery Nanzuka Underground, launched in 2005, have been at the forefront of introducing Japanese outsider traditions, like street art and anime, into the attention of the international art world. In 2019, Nanzuka launched the landmark “Tokyo Pop Underground” exhibit in New York in collaboration with curator Jeffrey Deitch. One of the first artists Nanzuka represented, Keiichi Tanami, has exhibited worldwide, and has five works collected by the Museum of Modern Art.
Antono and Nanzuka’s foray into fashion has been long in the making. In 2019, Nanzuka opened 2G, a shop centered on fashion, a world he has wholly embraced. Currently, fashion is in a period where streetwear and luxury are no longer closed off from one another, with significant cross-traffic between the two. In Japan, a similar change is happening between high art and street art. Artists like Takashi Murakami, or KAWS (who was influenced by Japan as a young artist) typify this shift, happily absorbing street art and fashion into their practices. Nanzuka has acknowledged the two artists as trailblazers in elevating Japanese street art to the level of fine art in recent years.
Roby Dwi Antono, one of the painters Nanzuka represents, is a self-taught artist. This year, he exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong. The two of them came together to chat about their fashion collaboration for Highsnobiety.
Shinji, when did you first encounter Roby Dwi Antono and his work?
Shinji: I was introduced by my friend, an American collector based in NY. And I was curious how Roby, as Indonesian, developed his work from the influence of Nara, Mark Ryden, or Javier + Japanese Action TV such as Ultraman or Godzilla. As a gallerist, watching such ongoing influence is very interesting, which I feel is left art behind by history.
Roby, tell me a bit about this collaboration.
Roby: About a month ago I was contacted by Shinji, he recommended I join this collaboration. Of course, I said yes because I had previously told him that I really wanted to collaborate in Fashion. I am very happy with this collaboration. So excited!
The drawings have a child-like quality, an aesthetic that in the West could date back to Cy Twombly, except it is applied in a streetwear context. Tell me about developing this aesthetic, and how that is affected by a fashion format?
R: This series of works is my attempt to visit the memories floating on the surface and dive into the memories buried deep below. It's not an easy thing to collect all the memories, put them together and then organize them neatly in chronological order. Memories are scattered in the middle or piled up in the corners of the room. Maybe they are not meant to be forced into sequences but random, and not even traceable. In this dive for memories, I choose to revisit past memories one by one from the simple, trivial and insignificant to the very emotional. Then I process the random memory into a visual language that might give birth to new meanings and feelings from the memory pieces that have been collected, either to be simple or even to be more complicated and complex. In the process, this memory activity led me to sail home, to be more precise, to my family.
I've seen fashion designs several times with pretty raw graphics or illustrations applied in them and that's quite interesting for me. I like things that are minimalistic and clean but at the same time, I am always tempted to destroy them with rough strokes.
What does the word underground mean to you?
R: Freedom of expression
S: Counter to authority. The right to show a different vision.
Shinji, tell me about your relationship with Jeffrey Deitch. When did you first meet, and what was his interest in exhibiting your artists in New York?
S: Since I opened my gallery in 2005, Jeffery was the only gallerist I really liked/respected. Then When he came to my Basel HK booth in 2015, he gave me very positive feedback, I was very happy. Then he came to my booth again in 2016 and told me “we should do something together.” Then I went to NY and made a presentation of my curated show to explain Japanese underground art history. Then we made #TokyoPopUnderground show together!
Both of you embrace the fashion world through collaborations. I think a majority of the blue chip art world avoids fashion because they don’t understand it. Yet you welcome it. Why? What opportunities do you see there that others are missing?
S: Tanaami says I like to print his works in fashion as it looks like moving / living. Also he thinks printed T-shirts are a very good promotion, as he knows the 60’s movement well—Kusama’s tabloids, or On Kawara’s “print painting” etc.
R: Fashion is the outer shell of a human being. It serves to cover our body and at the same time exposes what we want to show about ourselves. It represents who we are.
Roby, what are you working on now?
R: I'm currently working on some paintings for my solo exhibition with Nanzuka in January 2021.
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