Visual Vocabulary of an Experimental Journey


Story by Anton Adianto
Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono &Sudarman Angir

Urban sketching is born out of daily activities. It includes sketches of buildings as well as of anything that represents the stories of the city and the lives of its denizens, including movement, culture and traditions. There is no classification of objects or techniques in the genre, as the aim of the art is to share the activities of the city. The tools used to make sketches could be as simple as a sketchbook and pencil, or slightly more complex, with an easel and a drawing chair. It all depends on the location, time of day and complexity of the object to be portrayed.

After a 20-year stint as an architect in Surabaya; Darman, as Sudarman Angir is known, is familiar with the world
of drawings and sketches in his daily life. After a childhood spent learning calligraphy, Darman says he grew interested in sketching after he graduated from the architecture department of his university. His entry into the world of urban sketching, a genre pioneered by Gabriel Campanario in Seattle in 2007, was by chance.

Born in Bima, East Nusa Tenggara; Darman sketched the old town of Surabaya when he was expecting the birth of his first child. Strolling around the old part of the city in 2011, he took the time to observe the numerous heritage buildings there, which inspired him to start sketching.

He is now a member of Surabaya Urban Sketchers, a community that began from his confusion over why Surabaya had no group that could organise the city's urban sketchers. "With seven million residents, how come there is no community in the city to accommodate urban sketching professionally?" Darman asked.

In May 2013, along with several colleagues he established Surabaya Urban Sketchers, a group that currently has 80 participants. The group's first exhibition was held during an event proposed by the management of Surabaya's Grha Wismilak. Members meet to sketch every three or four months. The group also exists on the national stage, as evident by Darman's appointment as an urban sketching instructor for an event in Penang, Malaysia, in 2014. "In the beginning, I learned from these sketching masters from Southeast Asian countries. However, at that time I had to become an instructor and stood alongside them. How remarkable!" Darman says.

Based on that opportunity and his experience in the field, Darman says that urban sketching is no longer an activity that dwells only in the artistic or personal realm. It also has communal and social elements. Meaning has shifted. And inter-city and cross-country relationships have emerged based on an alternative, and some would say less precise, method of material representation that might be more profound and deeply felt than photography.

The visual vocabulary of the artist affects the work. While a sketch cannot express the essence of an object as a whole, at least it can portray a specific side or detail. The coordination of the eyes, mind and hands of the artist in a frame creates a unique work, not only due to the sketcher's talent, but due to how he or she sees the object. "What you see will not be the same as what I see, although we might be drawing the same object with the same point of view. It's because the variables are very personal," Darman adds.

In 2015, the Consulate General of the United States in Surabaya invited Darman and his colleague, Sukandi LK Bing, to create some sketches of several corners in their complex. The sketches currently occupy a central spot in the consulate general's main lobby. The activities that helped introduce Surabaya to foreign communities have also made a name for Darman, both in Indonesia and abroad. In November 2016, he will represent the nation as an urban sketching instructor during a prestigious event in Asia, which will be held in Bangkok, Thailand.

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