SASYA Tranggono had always been drawn to song, dance and colours. While growing up, she harboured dreams of becoming an artiste.
But her parents, both medical doctors, kept her feet planted firmly on the ground. They expected their eldest child to eventually get involved with the family business, a beauty and cosmetics company.
To their chagrin, she dismissed this and pursued her artistic interests. “They were very upset when I decided to become an artist after completing my MBA,” says the Indonesia-born Tranggono.
Although there were many bumpy periods in her early artistic career the 46-year-old says they didn’t dampen her enthusiasm.
“I was also very lucky to have met people who offered their help and support at times when I needed it. I’m very blessed that against all odds, it worked out in the end.”
Tranggono recalls that she enrolled in an art class during her last year of her MBA studies, which she did in the Netherlands.
“I went for these evening classes just for the fun of it. The students were old people, mostly retirees and senior citizens. I played around with many kinds of media, including oil, watercolour and charcoal, but wasn’t particularly drawn to any one kind,” she says during a chat at Zinc Art Space, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, where she will be having her solo exhibition next week.
That could have been the end of her attempts at art, but they didn’t stop there. As fate would have it, a few years down the road, she found herself a stay-at-home mum and had her hands full with a hyperactive toddler. But it wasn’t very long before she started feeling restless again.
“I went back to oil painting. Even when I was going for art classes, I never thought of myself as having a talent for painting. I think I discovered how much I really liked it when I came back to it after the break. You could even say I became an artist by accident!” she says, laughing.
But Tranggono’s stint with oil painting didn’t last very long, because of her concern for her son, Nicholas Hilman, who is now 15 and also paints.
“I didn’t have a babysitter to look after Nicholas, so he followed me everywhere. When I worked on my oil paintings in an air-conditioned room, he would be right beside me, breathing in all the toxic fumes.
“It was his father who put a stop to it – he told me that he would throw all my art supplies away if I don’t stop with oil painting. He told me to choose the safest medium to work with because it would be best for our son.”
Thus began her foray into watercolours.
“In the beginning, I struggled a bit with it. I found it a challenging medium to work with. The colours run into each other and you don’t have as much control as you do with oil. I also like to paint on canvas, which is more challenging than doing it on paper, which is more commonly used”.
Two decades have passed since Tranggono first put brush to canvas in art class. Today, the characteristic fluidity of the medium doesn’t bother her anymore.
“When you are familiar with the technique, you know what to expect and you learn what to do when ‘mistakes’ happen. It’s all very free-flow and you get many ‘happy accidents’ happening with the colours and water. I love working with watercolours now.”
Hailed for her watercolour works, particularly those depicting flowers and wayang golek (traditional wooden puppets), she insists on using lots of bright and bold colours.
“All my paintings are colourful. My favourites are the warm, happy tones like orange, red, fuchsia and yellow. To me, the most important thing about art is the colour. Black and white paintings often bore me!”
She works with a variety of motifs – among other things, butterflies, fishes, birds, theatre masks and clowns – but says it is her wayang golek paintings that collectors and art enthusiasts snap up.
“Collectors book these paintings before they are completed. There is a waiting list for them because I produce less of the wayang works compared to the other things. They are very time-consuming because there’s so much detail in each painting.
“Each painting has a story to tell, and it’s all about life. As they say, life is a stage – and you can see this reflected in these paintings.”
Having spent more than a decade abroad in Europe, Tranggono is inspired by life experiences and the sights and sounds she absorbs on her travels.
Describing her work as Eastern objects with Western colours and composition, she says: “I want people to see the multi-culturalism in my paintings. I want them to see the rich culture of Indonesia combined with my experiences abroad.
“People who like my paintings often ask me to teach them about colours and I tell them that all they have to do is to open their eyes and see the world around them. I tell them to travel. I love to travel and probably the best places (in terms of colour) to go to are Spain, Morocco and India,” she says, adding that Portugal and South America are the next two destinations on her list.
While she has since patched things up with her parents and is now involved with the public relations and business development sector of the family business, Tranggano is also very active in the Christian ministry.
“I’m someone who cannot sit still for very long. I like leading a busy life and I really can’t imagine being bored with what I’m doing now. Painting is my life. When I put some music on and start painting, I get carried away and forget to come out of the studio.”
As for advice for aspiring artists, she cautions that the stakes are high in this profession.
“If you don’t sell your paintings, you won’t be able to survive. But an artist should never give up on his dreams. If you want to be famous, you need to work at having the right connections.
“Perhaps the most important thing is that you need to offer something that’s different from what other artists are doing. And you need to be happy with what you do,” she says.
Contact Sasya Tranggono’s ‘From Indonesia with Love’