Laying It All Out with Muklay

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not at all interested in anime. Maybe it’s because we were colonized by Japan on a Sunday. Every Sunday I would wake up early just to watch Dragon Ball, Ninja Hattori, Chibi Maruko-chan, those kinds of shows,” Muchlis Fachri, better known as Muklay, opened our conversation around the beginning of his interest in the visual world.

Muklay feels that his ability and tenacity in the visual world is somewhat inherited from his family. He said that as a child he often asked his father to draw pictures of Dragon Ball characters. Muklay then realized that his grandfather was very skilled with his hands. “It turned out that my grandfather really liked to re-transcribe the Quran. He never used a ruler but ]his writing] would be incredibly straight,” Muklay mentioned.

Although he never envisioned himself becoming a teacher, after he graduated high school, Muklay majored in Art Education at the State University of Jakarta (UNJ). Initially, Muklay had wanted to pursue higher education in Visual Communication Design (DKV). At the time he had two options in mind; Trisakti University or Bina Nusantara university. “But my mother also challenged me. If I could get into [a] state [university], I would get a Macbook Pro. So of course I chose to attend the state university,” Muklay chuckled.

He was also accepted by the Indonesian Institute of Art Yogyakarta in the DKV program. However, his reluctance to leave home played a huge part in his decision to not continue his studies in Yogyakarta. “I’m the type of person who really struggles to move far from home. I’m really comfortable at home. It just so happened that the [UNJ] campus is really close to my house. I could get there on foot,” Muklay laughed.

This thing that may seem like a trivial matter actually reassured Muklay to continue his studies at UNJ. He was very interested in the murals around his campus. Later, he discovered that those murals were created by his upperclassmen Robo Wobo. “Do you know which university Robo Wobo attended?” he asked one of his friends at the time. “He went to UNJ,” his friend answered. This further strengthened Muklay’s conviction to attend UNJ.

Muklay’s visit to a bookstore back in 2014 led him to his visual style discovery process. There, he came across Big Hole, a graphic novel by Charles Burns. Adding to that many references from secondhand Marvel comics he had been collecting since high school, Muklay began his journey to find his visual character. He did a few tests on black paper. “At first it was all over the place. Messy. After going at it for a while, I got there eventually,” Muklay regaled.

He also looked towards many Indonesian artists who carried a visual style similar to his character—or could be considered lowbrow. In his search, he came across Ace House, a Yogyakarta-based collective. Through the work and artistic practice of Wedhar Riyadi and Uji “Hahan” Handoko, Muklay began to see that the artistic approach he wanted to carry was legitimate. Muklay explained, “ Oh, it’s actually okay to make work like this [lowbrow]. I got my approval there. It turns out that [that style] had arrived in Indonesia, so it’s just more legit. Building a career with these artworks was in the realm of possibility.”

As part of the Kuliah Kerja Lapangan (English: lit. university field work) program, Muklay chose to undertake that university obligation at Hahan’s Yogyakarta- studio. Over that fairly short period, according to Muklay, he began to learn about studio management. He explained that there he was able to see how the process behind an artistic strategy is built from determining a target, building networks, conducting research, and even conceptualization.

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In Muklay’s view, throughout his experience in Yogyakarta, he often heard of the steps and efforts undertaken by artists to be able to be exhibited at galleries. “I wanted to take those lessons with me, but implement them in a different way,” Muklay remarked. For him, If all artists are aiming to be exhibited in galleries then the competition becomes even tighter and the scope of galleries becomes smaller. He wanted to create work with a different approach.

Since 2015, when he had yet to complete his studies at university, Muklay was already actively collaborating with many brands. “If you said, ‘That darn Muklay is a collab artist.’ Well, that’s not wrong. I have been collaborating for a long time,” Muklay said. Although he is now balancing both collaboration projects and fine arts pursuits for galleries, he still feels that he is still much more comfortable with collaborations. “So, in my opinion, the reason why I still maintain collaboration projects to this day is because their impact is radial. Round, getting bigger and bigger, with more  and more people becoming more aware,” he opined.

He’s sure that the work he’s done in fine arts and galleries is also the result of his collaborative projects. To him, those projects are what introduced his work to the general public, including galleries. “It could be said that my being able to exhibit in Japan, the Philippines, in established galleries abroad was because of these collabs,” he said.

Meanwhile, working with galleries in Muklay’s opinion is merely to elevate the value of his work. He sees that his scope is much more limited unlike the unexpected results you might get from collaborative projects. He opined, “I have yet to see the purpose behind working with galleries besides money.”

According to him, projects with galleries usually take the form of solo exhibitions. When it’s in the form of a group exhibition, he usually deliberates the track record of that very gallery. “The important thing for me is that the gallery can sell the work. Because galleries are a place to sell. They [galleries] get 50% [commission] from selling our work. If you finish making your piece, you’ve poured in your time, money, canvas, whatever else, but they’re too lazy to sell your work then what’s the point. If I keep making these artworks, you should sell them,” Muklay laughed.

Muklay continued to explain, “I look for galleries that can go beyond. For example, me and YOD in Japan. My work gets brought to art fairs. This means that they’re responsible. They’re selling my work and they also help publish my works. I want someone who goes bigger. The gallery is actually small, but it’s located in Harajuku.”

Muklay also wants his work to reach all layers of society. “The merchandise of a visual artist doesn't have to be hard to catch. Meaning, it doesn’t have to always be exclusive. There are exclusive collabs. But if it’s all exclusive then, then it’s just as if you’re buying artworks at a gallery,” he elaborated. “Sometimes I would brand myself as someone only exhibiting at certain galleries. But, sometimes, I can also brand myself as a more grassroots [artist]. I play both sides.”

In the context of artworking, for Muklay, there’s a difference between creating work for collaborative projects and creating work for fine arts. For collaborative or commission projects, Muklay is the type of artist that is very open to directions from the client. Meanwhile, in the context of fine art, Muklay is currently developing several styles to overcome his surfeit of creating works within the same pattern. “Well, of course I’m bored of doing outlines everyday. Now I’m spray painting. There’s also pieces with blue outlines instead of black. There are also realist pieces. Now, I’m also creating more abstract works,” Muklay explained.

Aside from creating artworks, Muklay is also quite active in sharing his everyday activities through posts and content on social media. He would even edit those posts himself. Not only channeling his likes and excitement, to him this can also be monetized. In his perspective, a work of art represents its artist. As a pop art artist, social media and other popular things cannot be separated from himself and his artistic practice.

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About the Author

Daud Sihombing

Daud Sihombing has been writing professionally for the past 9 years. This fervent alternative publishing enthusiast prefers his quaint little town over the hustle and bustle of the city and doesn't let sleep stop him from watching every single AS Roma match.