Eye Contact from Thailand

January 19, 2009

art4d

An art and architecture magazine from Thailand, art4d, has featured LeBoYe for the Eye Contact section in their latest issue. The article started with the writer’s experiences during his short trip to Indonesia a few months ago. We were just amongst the few designers that Piyapong Bhumichitra met and interviewed to get a taste of current Indonesian art and design.

None of us had ever been to Indonesia although one person in our group could speak the local language. Anyway, we didn’t expect much. The information we had about Indonesia was pretty basic. We were heading for the world’s most populous Muslim country on earth, the world’s fourth largest country. All we knew about it was that many volcanic mountains there remain active and much of the archipelago lies on the seismic fault line. Four years ago it suffered heavy casualties when the tsunami stuck. And we also read somewhere that the first human, the Java Man, and US president-elect Barack Obama used to live there.

Soekarno – Hatta Jakarta International Airport was probably the same size as Don Muang but its ambience is more like our Samui Airport. After going through customs and immigration, we came out to be greeted by sticky hot air, not unlike Bangkok. Our driver packed all the bags in the trunk and took us toward Bandung in the mountains of West Java which our guidebook had said was about threehour’s drive from Jakarta. But that estimated drive time was too optimistic; perhaps it hadn’t taken into account the traffic this Monday morning.

As part of our itinerary, we had planned to visit a couple of houses and interview a few local designers. We had also made an appointment to see the man behind LeBoYe, a renowned graphic design studio based in Jakarta, after the trip to Bandung.

Members of the Indonesian design community seem to know one another pretty well, just as in Bangkok. Every architect we talked to said the same thing about LeBoYe; that it is the best graphic studio in Indonesia.

We spent hours stuck in the traffic before finally arriving at the suburb of Kemang. The notoriety of Jakarta congestion is in the same league as Bangkok pre-BTS and MRT. Kemang Selatan is evidently a rich neighbourhood. It looks well-groomed when compared with other suburbs. LeBoYe’s office was to be found there. Hermawan Tanzil, the founder and the brain behind the acclaimed studio, looked more like a film star than a graphic designer. After acquiring a degree in Fine Arts in Graphic Design from California College of the Arts in 1985, Tanzil got to work with a US based graphic design firm before he eventually headed home and joined Paul Curtin Design.

In 1990, he established his own practice and named it LeBoYe, from the French words “Le beaux yeaux”, meaning “The Good Eye”. He chose the name because he said he liked the sound of it. The original home-cum-office was smaller and more modest than the present outfit.

Here is an office that has the look and feel of an art house. Designed and built in 1998 by Andra Matin, an Indonesian architect and friend, his brief was to create a simple residence that could provide a contrasting backdrop to Tanzil’s prized collections. Barring the work station and the iMac on the writing desk, this could be a museum exhibiting ancient arts of Indonesia. A painting on the window, an old poster and a more recent one sitting side by side next to a mountain of tin toys and odd-looking collection items reveal the designer’s passions.

LeBoYe began life as a graphic design firm when the concept of graphic design was still underrated in Indonesia. At the time, there were 4-5 such firms in the entire country. Corporate giants preferred the services of international ad agencies rather than local firms, especially for the production of annual reports and corporate identities.

In l995, Tanzil started ‘Indonesia Agenda Book’ project with an intent to demonstrate to his fellow countrymen that Indonesian cultural heritage was rich and unique; it could and indeed has made important contributions to contemporary graphic designs. The book displays an eclectic collection of items used in daily life since colonial times including posters, propaganda materials, book covers, cigarette packet, product labels and even tea sachets. The response was overwhelming, he said, adding that for many, this was the first time they became aware that graphic design related to real life or that it was embedded in our everyday culture from the time of our ancestors.

art4d

We came to understand Tanzil’s work a bit better when we were invited into his office. Packed on the table, along the walls, and everywhere in the room were his numerous collections. Many items were antiques and left-over treasure troves from the colonial era. If he hadn’t made it as graphic designer, Tanzil could have run a museum.

LeBoYe’s aesthetic reflects a unique blend of Indonesian, Asian, and Feminist influences, paying homage to the richness of Indonesian traditions and the diversity of its art forms. Some pieces are uncompromising reinventions of typical visual representation, conventional colour schemes and materials. Surprisingly, there is little emphasis on typographic techniques and minimal experimentation with typesetting. The Indonesian language had had a distinctive writing system before it was abolished and replaced with the Roman writing system by the Dutch.We don’t know if this was the reason why LeBoYe appears less inclined to work on the typographical images of the Indonesian language. But priority seems to be given to the visual and other elements, not so much to the font.

art4d

Every book design and publication project shows Tanzil’s meticulous attention to detail. Apart from a clean design, careful selection of materials and printing techniques are the hallmark of his works. I was not surprised to hear that his father owned a small printing shop and his brother also studied graphic design. Two important men in his life already in the trade had served as a strong motivation for young Tanzil to enter the world of graphic design. And he did accomplish what he set out to do, and has done very well since.

LeBoYe specializes in creating image and branding identities, packaging, corporate communication, corporate brochures, web design, and other marketing collaterals. It also designs and produces a range of own brand goods. The ground floor of the office building has been turned into a retail outlet for LeBoYe products.

art4d

Of the total of 20 staff, only 3 are designers. It was not mentioned what the other 17 were doing. But Tanzil seemed happy with the current size of his design team. Each year, universities and colleges in Indonesia churn out about 20,000 new graduates in graphic design. He said art study has become a victim of its own success. Many enroll in the course because it’s in vogue. But he asked with obvious concern whether these graduates meet the high standard required by the industry.

Nevertheless, he said he had hope for the future; many young people have staked out their fortune by pursuing an art degree. He wished the government could realize the potential and benefits of the creative economy to the country. In that event, the door of opportunity would open up for many more designers, both established and newcomers. Many countries have successfully developed the creative economy strategy, so maybe Indonesia can do the same and come up with their own model, he believes.

The conversation went on till late, and we almost forgot that we had another interview lined up with Andra Matin the next morning. We cannot confirm if LeBoYe is the best graphic design studio in Indonesia, but what we can vouch for is LeBoYe’s works genuinely represent ‘Indonesian’ values in its essence and identity.

art4d

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5 Responses to “Eye Contact from Thailand”

  1. Rama Says:

    Wow..Congrats Pak! being the most ‘indonesian’ graphic design studio is such a pride!

  2. leboye Says:

    terimakasih rama kompak selalu unt kita semua…

  3. sadithya Says:

    ga sengaja nemu website ini, krn namanya yang unik saya baca2 bbrp pos lebih lanjut. all i can say is congratulations! maybe sm of us haven’t heard of leboye yet but we definitely see its works everywhere, its familiar design like the ‘meradelima’ logo. i will tweet this and post a link about this news on facebook, if u don’t mind. 🙂 just letting ppl know.

  4. Lucio Elsey Says:

    Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and all. Nevertheless think about if you added some great photos or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this site could undeniably be one of the best in its field. Amazing blog!


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