Christine Ay Tjoe is one of Indonesia’s highest-valued contemporary artists, with paintings going for up to USD 1.7 million in the international market. She is renowned for her brightly coloured and playful abstract pieces, which many fail to realize carry messages of environmental coexistence within them. 

Photograph of Christine Ay Tjoe by Martin Westlake. Image courtesy of Tatler Asia.

Born and raised in Bandung, Indonesia, Ay Tjoe had spent time revelling in nature. This was translated into abstract paintings, which are her synthesized portrayals of human beings, plants, and animals coexisting together. Ay Tjoe had consciously and meticulously abstracted them to fuse them into a single coherent whole to show the codependent relationship between humankind and nature. She also wishes to highlight that humanity, plants and animals all have a part to play in a single larger planetary ecosystem, actively encouraging her viewers to help maintain this delicate balance. This makes her pieces relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land and Life Below Water.

…to See the White Land by Christine Ay Tjoe. Image courtesy of Phillips Auction House.

To create her pieces, Ay Tjoe sometimes began with a pencil-on-paper sketch. This initial step allows her to be more intentional in her abstraction, giving her more control over the figures, plants and organisms that she is fusing together. However, other times, she would also go into her paintings intuitively, creating pieces that can be as large as two metres tall by two metres wide. “It’s like I find a spirit, and the spirit helps me make it,” said Ay Tjoe in an interview with Tatler Asia.

In the interview, Ay Tjoe also shared that she considers herself a spiritual person. She was raised Catholic and considers her work a God-given duty. Her paintings act as guidance tools for her audiences to remember their place in the planetary ecosystem.

A drawing by Christine Ay Tjoe. Image courtesy of Tatler Asia.

This is especially crucial, considering that she is based in Indonesia. While Bandung as a city may be surrounded by lush greens, a 2023 report published by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry found that only 24 percent of Java Island’s forests remain. This comes as no surprise since Java, the Island on which Bandung sits, is also Indonesia’s most populated island, hosting most of its 270 million population. To make matters worse, the report also stated that this means that Java is home to a particularly large number of endemic animals that are threatened with extinction, including the slow loris, the surili monkey and the Javan gibbon. These are exactly the reasons why Ay Tjoe’s message of humankind’s equal coexistence with nature is essential.

Greed and Greed 1 by Christine Ay Tjoe. Image courtesy of the Art World Database.

Christine Ay Tjoe’s abstract paintings hold an important message of environmental coexistence within their seemingly chaotic and playful splashes of colours. Rooted in her time spent in nature, she uses her abstract paintings to communicate how human beings, plants and animals alike are interconnected within the planetary ecosystem. Each plays their own part, pulling their own weight and reliant on each other, whether they are consciously aware of this or not. As Indonesia and the world grapple to solve environmental challenges, Ay Tjoe’s paintings act as powerful reminders of the balance that they should strive for.

Find out more about Christine Ay Tjoe’s abstract paintings and other pieces by checking their Instagram account @ay_tjoe_christine.

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