A British artist of Balinese descent, Sinta Tantra was born in New York in 1979. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London 1999-2003 and at the Royal Academy Schools London 2004-06. She was awarded the inaugural Bridget Riley Drawing Fellow at The British School at Rome (2017).
Known for her fascination with colour and composition, Sinta Tantra’s work is an experiment in scale and dimension, a duality of pop and formalism, an exploration of identity and aesthetics. Her decade of work in the public realm produced distinct colour abstractions which wrapped around the built environment, enlivening and transforming them in the process. Her work now ranges from small painted canvases to huge architectural installations, from bold, tropical colour to a Calder-like minimalism. It occupies a space at the intersection between painting and architecture, striking a fine balance between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, decorative and functional, public and private. Themes within Tantra’s practice include the slippage between pictorial and physical space, of turning something 'inside out', and how we as bodies become submerged in surface and structure.
Highly regarded for her site-specific murals and installations in the public realm, commissions include: Facebook London (2018); Folkestone Triennial (2017) Newnham College, Cambridge University (2016); Songdo South Korea (2015); Royal British Society of Sculptors (2013); Liverpool Biennial (2012); Southbank Centre (2007). Tantra's most notable public work includes a 300-metre long painted bridge commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, Canary Wharf, London.
Solo shows include: Your Private Sky (Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London 2018); A House in Bali (ISA Art Advisory, Jakarta 2017), Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong 2016) and Fantastic Chromatic (Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London 2015).
International group shows include: Voyage to Indonesia, The World Bank, Washington (2018); Tetap Terang / Always Bright, ISA Jakarta 2018; High Noon, Accademia Belle Arti di Rome, Rome (2017), Quotidian, Pearl Lam Gallery, Shanghai (2017).
A recipient of many awards including the British Council's International Development Award (2014); and Deutsche Bank Award (2006), Tantra's work has been featured in both UK and international press including The Guardian, The Evening Standard, Tate Shots, Architectural Digest, Wall Street International Magazine, The Jakarta Post, iD Indonesia, etc.
Our Artist Manager Aretha had the pleasure of meeting Tantra in January 2019 for interview.
1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
I was born in New York to Balinese Parents who moved to the States in 1979. In addition to the traditional Balinese paintings and sculptures my parents had acquired, the house was also filled with American souvenirs picked up along the way from holiday road trips.
One of these souvenirs – not necessarily an ‘artworkʼ – I remember distinctly. A giant wooden carving of a Native American figure dressed handsomely in a feather headdress. To my four-year-old mind, this figure was more than just a sculpture – I worshipped him as a superhero.
2. What was it like growing up in Indonesia, how has that influenced your practice?
Everything in Bali is centred around religion: hours, days and months are spent creating flower offerings to the Gods, basket weaving, ceremonial cakes, bamboo structures—all for temple festivities and celebrations.
Traditionally in Bali, artistic skills are openly shared and encouraged amongst communities. To be artistic is to be social. The concept of high or low art does not exist.
I take inspiration from the fact that art doesnʼt necessarily have to be an
oil painting hung on a wall or a carved marble figure in a museum. It can have both a practical and social function outside the gallery—it can live in the midst of the everyday.
3. You studied at the Slade and also the RA Schools, can you tell us about that time and the artists you met while you were there?
I feel incredibly honoured to have gone to two of the best art schools in the country. Steeped in rich history and highly competitive, both schools are notoriously known for their rigorous tutorials and group critiques. I will always remember the wonderful cast of characters I met while studying there—former students, teachers, visiting lecturers. Three pieces of advice have always stuck with me: 1. Remember where your edges lie; 2. Recognise which camp you belong to; 3. Fail, fail and fail again.
4. What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
I try to squeeze in a swimming or yoga class early in the morning so that Iʼm ready to start work in the studio by roughly 9 am.
My favourite time is just before the morning gets started – a little window of around ten minutes before my assistant comes in – before the phone calls and emails start trickling in. Itʼs just me, drinking coffee, sitting still, and staring out the window.
5. Tell us about your public artworks - what was your most challenging commission?
Undoubtedly the painted bridge in Canary Wharf, London (commissioned in 2012 as part of the London Olympics celebrations). At 300 metres long and at a height of 1.5 metres high, it seemed impossible at first to create a dynamic design on such a long and thin canvas—especially one surrounded by tall skyscrapers in one of the world’s biggest financial districts.
I wanted to create a painting that engaged the viewer at different times of the day and different times of the year; a piece that made you think about the surrounding architecture, the natural landscape, and how we as bodies move along and around, above and below.
Seven years on from its completion, I still get a thrill every time I go on the DLR train and ride on top of my art.
6. How do you find your public artworks run alongside your painting practice? Do you find that one inspires the other?
Both are completely different worlds and use different sides of my brain. While the public art side uses a more ‘inside out approachʼ – practical and logical thinking – I find I also need time in the studio to quietly reflect and physically make with my hands, to have that one to one relationship with paint, colour, materials.
7. If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
Inspired by my interest in early twentieth-century modernist art, design, and fashion – and in honour of Judy Chicagoʼs all female Dinner Party cast – I would like to invite: Sonia Delaunay, Annie Albers, Eileen Gray, Vanessa Bell, Coco Chanel.
In my imagination, these women would arrive stylishly dressed – some perhaps more fashionably late than others! – but all with strong personalities and spirits to match.
8. Finally what projects have you got coming up in 2019?
Up next is Dubai Art Fair in March—Iʼm currently busily trying to finish paintings and sculptures for that now.
A two-person show with a New Zealand artist Andre Hemmer at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in Berlin, which opens during Berlin weekender at the end of April.
In the second half of 2019: Karachi Biennale, a public art commission in Seoul, a solo show in Jakarta... and not really a project but Iʼve also just taken up singing lessons this year… but don't count on me turning into a performance artist anytime soon!
"Colour exists as an integral aspect to my work and I am drawn to colour as a material which lies in-between the language of art and industry. Colour exists within its own structure - it is densely packed, hermetically sealed, contained. My work takes on a sculptural approach to 'colour-collage' where colour is 'cut' as opposed to filled, 'layered' as opposed to mixed, 'constructed' as opposed to emerged. Geometric boundaries are definitive and illusionary highs 'snap' into place as you walk around the work."
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