A Conversation with Gerson Gilrandy: The Artistic Power of Indonesia

Posted by: Karina Leviani

A Conversation with Gerson Gilrandy:
The Artistic Power of Indonesia

As a tribute to Sumpah Pemuda, we sat down and chatted with inspirational millennials from various industries in the country. Gerson Gilrandy is an illustrator and founder/creative director of Roots & Co, a design studio in Jakarta. He will be sharing with us today about being a millennial business owner in the creative industry and the artistic power of Indonesia. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Gerson Gilrandy, I was born in Semarang. Hmm…what else? Is it okay to say that I didn’t finish high school?

Really?
Yes! I started applying for university in my second year of high school. Apparently they were impressed by my portfolio and decided to accept me, without having to submit my high school diploma. So I immediately continued my study at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore. After graduating, I worked at The Press Room, a publishing and design consultancy under Singapore Architect, while also being a part-time illustrator for KULT 3D Magazine. After that, I moved to Play Imaginative before going back to Jakarta for good.

You had a secure job in Singapore, you can actually build your life there. What made you decide to get back to Indonesia?
Actually going back here isn’t really in my plan. But, one thing led to another and I finally decided to come back home. At first, I was disappointed. But in my heart, I knew there is God’s plan behind all of this. And when I finally settled down, I got really excited seeing the design scene in Jakarta, which is really different from the one in Singapore. Different people, different environments, and different work-ethic too.

What stood out the most to you?
The way I see it, Indonesia has a lot of cultures that define it. Singapore is a mix of plenty of cultures such as Indian, Chinese, or Malay for instance. But in Indonesia, you can find plenty of things that can only be found here. For example, when we say Ondel-Ondel or kerak telor, you immediately think of Jakarta. In comparison, when you say Kway Teow, well it can be Penang or Hong Kong. But that’s what makes Singaporean design workers strive really hard, they want to achieve an identity or a certain culture. While here, it is much more laid back. I think it’s because we have plenty of artists here in Indonesia, especially Jakarta. But at the same time, that’s what I’m really proud of because the art sense is actually very much present within Indonesians.

So after going back to Indonesia you worked at a design house in Jakarta for 2 years and then starting Roots & Co. What actually is Roots & Co? Can you tell us about how you first started the business?
Roots & Co. is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Jakarta. My partner Melfri and I, we are both artists. We both love fine art, we love to paint but we also work as graphic designers. So then we thought, why don’t we try to mesh fine art with design and branding? Well, I can’t say that this is new in the Jakarta design scene. But I have confidence in the exceptional combination of art background and style between Melfri and myself. Melfri’s style is more historical, traditional and cultural. Gods, temples, ancient Indonesian stuff. As for me, I’m the complete opposite. I grew up with graffiti, pop culture, cartoon, propaganda, basically I love thought-provoking pieces that question your perspective and is a representation of the current culture. However, our common ground is that we have the same philosophy on design which is: we learn from the past, we do it in the present, but we also think about the future.

The idealism of the business is to mesh fine art with branding. How is it working so far?
The ongoing challenge with this is due to the stigma that is present in Indonesia, that artists and graphic designers are two separate entities. Artists express themselves and their idealism, while graphic designers work according to the client’s brief. Here in Roots & Co., we push ourselves to always combine the two. How do you express yourself and your idealism while still being true to the brief? For instance, say we’re building a branding project for an Indonesian restaurant, why don’t we corporate Indonesia’s traditional dances or music and include it in the restaurant’s branding? Or perhaps inviting street artists to create something meaningful together? There are a lot of things we can explore artistically because Indonesia is very very rich. Maybe to some people, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the challenge for us to deliver the message effectively.  

"There are a lot of things we can explore artistically
because Indonesia is very very rich."
-Gerson Gilrandy

 

So you can say there’s some sort of an education process going on in the background?
Exactly. That is also one of our goals, for our clients. Sometimes the perspective of design and branding is very limited in the client’s eyes. And it’s pretty sad because Indonesian artists are very smart and creative, but their creativity is limited by the brief. For instance, almost all large F&B chains use the color red and yellow in their logo or branding. So then comes the notion “If we wish to create branding for an F&B business, we must use the same colors.” But then what will make your restaurant different than the others?

But do you think it’s possible that businesses and industries are finally open to new, more creative changes? Especially for corporate companies?
It’s getting there actually. Especially in the past 2 years, people are now more and more aware of the importance of good design and branding for a company. And a few large companies are now hiring millennials as their creative leads. So you can see how corporate advertisements and campaigns are now very interesting, fresh, and most importantly, effective. Well, some people will only see it from the profit standpoint, but it’s so much more than that for me. It shows that young designers and artists are starting to gain appreciation. A lot of brands are now also collaborating with local artists, street artists, graffiti artists, all sorts of artists you can find. So yes, it’s a very good opportunity and future for creatives.

Perhaps what needs to be changed in our mindsets is the definition of art itself. Because most of us see art as something rigid. Painting. Statue. That’s it. While in reality, it’s so much more than just that.
It’s true. For me, art is a platform for you to express and to communicate yourself. It is as simple and as complicated as that. A heartfelt poem, you singing in the shower, it’s art. A doodle in your notebook, an abstract painting, if it contains a specific message, then it’s art. Your Instagram caption, Facebook status, tweet, memes, to me it’s all art. Even during the recent college student protest, you can collect the boards and create a group exhibition out of it. What’s important is that a message is delivered, the difference only lies in the platforms you use.

"For me, art is a platform for you to express and to communicate yourself.
It is as simple and as complicated as that."
-Gerson Gilrandy

So as a millennial business owner in the creative industry, what is your personal goal for this nation by doing what you do?
What I dream of with me coming back to Indonesia, what I want to see and what I want to fight for is for Indonesia’s art, which is very very rich and diverse, to be exposed and known in the international world. Not only for the artworks or culture, but I wish the world can see that Indonesian people are capable to create something meaningful and our paradigm is appreciated for its criticality and  ability to freely communicate. Which is exactly why our art is very powerful.

What is your message to millennials who wishes to create a career in the arts/creative industry?
For college students just starting to learn the art or visual communication designs, don’t overthink everything. Just have fun and learn as much as you can. Because creative process and creative thinking are built during those days. If you think too far ahead about where you wish to work or how much salary you’re going to make, it will ruin the process. Just have fun and be honest. If you’re honest with your art, it will touch other people no matter what. As for design workers, keep doing what you do and let’s build something great for this nation.

"I wish the world can see that Indonesian people are capable to create something meaningful and our paradigm is appreciated for its criticality and ability to freely communicate. Which is exactly why our art is very powerful."
-Gerson Gilrandy

"Have fun and be honest. If you’re honest with your art, it will touch other people no matter what. So, keep doing what you do and let’s build something great for this nation."
-Gerson Gilrandy


Venue at Pardon My French Restaurant
Text by Karina Leviani
Photographs by Reita Devita
Creative Direction by Michelle Ariella and Kania Anggiani

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