Toto Sunu, Garden environment
About the Artist/Site
Toto Sunu is an artist born and raised in Purwokerto, Central Java, Indonesia. He now lives and works in Cirebon. He studied and trained himself in the tradition of Wayang painting, developing a unique aesthetic which he then began to paint in reverse on glass. Toto Sunu has continued to develop his work in painting and sculpture, creating numerous artworks through his own invented techniques. He has also worked as a designer for stages and created the interior of the Cirebon train depot. His expansive work also includes machine and kinetic works, monster art cars, motorcycles, and more.
Perhaps his most important work is his own home in Cirebon, a masterfully transformed sculptural cave made of concrete and various DIY materials. The gesture and color of this work were drawn from his history of Wayang painting and have become vibrant, flowering, floating sculptures. Small pumps push water through the sculptures, causing them to spin; look more closely and one will find that the base of these sculptures is a maze-like home for real goldfish that swim throughout the works. At night this gentle, spinning, sculptural water garden comes to life with light. If one looks beneath the fabricated leaves in his environment, they will find one on which is inscribed the phrase “Tema silahkan anda bertanya” [Please ask the theme”]. The artist will probably explain that his work is his form of praise. Keep looking and one will be pleasantly amused, touched, relieved, confused, and more.
Over decades, Toto Sunu has masterfully moved through a broad range of painting styles, creating photo realistic portraits and then traditional Wayang painting on glass. For a time he painted many ships with his eyes completely closed. When his traditional Wayang works were first discovered, Toto enjoyed a period of artistic respect and financial success, even showcasing his “eyes closed” painting technique for the president of Indonesia. Sadly, Wayang painting has since fallen out of favor and is considered out of date, rather than as a living aspect of the ongoing history of Indonesian art and culture. This has been one of the many challenges that Toto Sunu has faced as an artist.
Toto continues to work every day. Making paintings is what pays for his life, his work, his materials, and his daily needs. An injury to his right arm challenged his ability to work, until he began engaging his left arm to the point of becoming ambidextrous. He says this injury to his primary painting hand is what ultimately pushed the next phase of his work to become something completely fresh. He even built a machine that helps move his canvas around when he has trouble moving his arm.
Toto Sunu’s most recent style of painting is by far his most personal and unique invention with the brush. He has even formulated his own indestructible paint, which he now uses for every work on canvas. We watched as he demonstrated how he can twist up one of his canvases and leave the work completely unharmed.
However, Toto Sunu’s current works are easily misunderstood in his home in Indonesia. These recent works incorporate vibrant colors applied dimensionally to the canvas and repeat themes that are sometimes misperceived as crafts in a negative sense. These misunderstandings have further challenged him as he struggles to support the daily needs of his family.
Toto Sunu continues to meet his challenges and create his personal works of praise. He lives with his wife and has two sons and two daughters. He loves visitors and warmly welcomes those who wish to visit the artist’s handmade environment, his home, and studio.
~Kurt Peterson and Manuela Wijayanti
Map & Site Information
Kesambi, West Java, 45133 id
Latitude/Longitude: -6.73397 / 108.556706
Kesambi, West Java, 45133, Indonesia
1995 - present
The address of this site is:
Jalan Karang Makmur No. 48 RT 04 / RW 03
Kelurahan Drajat, Kecamatan Kesambi, Cirebon 45133 Indonesia
Ward 4 Dalat City (Lam Dong Province) 67000, Gia Lai Province
Tambon Bak Dong, Chang Wat Si Sa Ket
Mueang Chiang Rai