IMURAL: Pushing boundaries in the Indonesian mural scene

Stigma, a label given by someone if one differs from the norms prevailing in the society. We have 24 hours a day and seem to spend a significant amount of it labeling or judging people instead of creating something.

Only a select few are brave enough to swim against social currents, living life in their own terms until their actions and behaviors are socially accepted. Some even go as far as being a trend - blindly followed by others.

The tattoo is a great example of this. Initially considered sacred and deeply tied with a particular culture and tradition, through various including power and violence, it is now regarded as a form of art and creative expression laid on the human body.

It is safe to presume that we have seen more tigers tattooed into arms and backs than in a zoo or it’s a natural habitat.

In Indonesia, such stigmas do exist and are experienced by people of various backgrounds and occupations, including artists. Some of you might have also experienced this, being dissuaded from majoring in arts or from pursuing a career as an artist. Discussions regarding the topic often revolve around questions on the lines of “Emang dari ngelukis bisa beli rumah??” and results in dreams being buried and forgotten.

Since 2013, Richard has been trying to break that stigma by establishing a visual art service company, focusing on murals, named IMURAL. A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling, or other permanent surfaces.

Along the way, Richard and his team have also tried to take the Indonesian mural scene to a higher level by incorporating Augmented Reality into their artwork. You can whip out your phone to see their artwork come to life.

Let’s check out Richard's journey, from a fresh graduate back in 2013 inspired by his trip to Philadelphia, without any prior knowledge about mural art, up until now where he manages the careers of talented Indonesian muralists and has successfully collaborated with international brands like Disney.

Hi Richard, nice to meet you. Let's start with a simple question, how do you see yourself now? Artist or entrepreneur?

Richard: Since starting IMURAL in 2013, I have never been able to paint. So don't imagine me like a Van Gogh.

I am more an entrepreneur who believes in the artistic capabilities of Indonesian artists and muralists. I aim to help them meet the market needs.

"I saw this as a form of un-managed creativity. I thought that we could do better if the government supported such expressions of art."

Wow, interesting. I guess you were a reliable painter before. Hahaha. So what makes you interested and care about the world of murals?

R: In my last year of college in 2013, I had the opportunity to go to Philadelphia for 2 months. Philadelphia is the city with the most murals in the world. In every corner of the city, you will definitely find a very nice murals. Big and beautiful.

So I thought that Indonesia could be made to look like this as we have so many good artists. The student exchange program required me to come up with a social activity that is impactful to society. I thought that murals would be a good idea.

Do you think this can be applied in Indonesia?

R: Yes, of course. When I returned to Indonesia, I saw that there was a lot of graffiti under Jembatan Semanggi. Drawings ranging from skulls, abstract images, to pornography. That was the picture of Jakarta at that time from a muralist’s perspective. I saw this as a form of un-managed creativity. I thought that we could do better if the government supported such expressions of art.

My initial concept revolved around trying to facilitate artists to make a positive desirable impact on Jakarta’s public space. This was not business at first. I then visited various art communities and events to find partners to take part in this social activity.

What was the purpose at that time?

R: Very simple. We wanted to paint on bridge pillars along Antasari Street, Jakarta. If it was filled with interesting paintings, it could later be used for advertising.

We tried to contact the Jakarta government, but there was never a positive response. I guess this was only fair. I was yet to prove myself and murals weren't considered as an art as it is today.

Then, how did you turn these social activities into a business?

R: Business is all about solving problems. As long as there was an absence of solutions for muralists and their unmanageable levels of creativity, opportunities certainly exist. I gave myself a deadline for one year. If I fail to make progress, I will step down and look for a 9-5 office job just like other fresh graduates.

Did it go well in the beginning?

R: I started with one partner. He was a painter and it was my responsibility to look for a client. At that time, we immediately got a client from a prestigious national bank. I was quite surprised, but also proud. In fact, when viewed today the results of our work are not good enough but back in 2013 our work was amongst.

However, after this project, we did not have any client for the next 6 months, after which my partner decided to leave. We had changed several partners, but as usual, no money no honey, leaving me to run this business by myself.

What made you stick to this business even in the absence of partners and painting skills?

R: I do not have an answer to this. As I said before, business is all about solving problems, and I guess I felt that those of muralists were yet to be solved.

So I started with the name Indonesia Mural and then changed to IMURAL. Surprisingly, after traversing the path alone, many clients came to me. My job was only as a broker at the time, passing along projects to a muralist friend of mine.

Finally, it came to me that we had to improve our service quality. I invited two people who have the most potential and have a good vision to help make IMURAL better. We targeted the upper middle market at that time to differentiate our service from other independent muralists.

"Every artist usually has their own free spirit. They are idealists. Sometimes they feel constrained if they have to create mural according to the market’s needs."

So, what is IMURAL's impact on muralists?

R: For convenience, we are like label management in the music industry. We manage their careers allowing them to practice and live off their passion. We try to give insights to them about upcoming trends in the market. However, it all returned to their will, whether they would pursue it or not.

What is the biggest obstacle you've faced in running IMURAL?

R: The main obstacle comes from the muralist and the market. Every artist usually has their own free spirit. They are idealists. Sometimes they feel constrained if they have to create mural according to the market’s needs.

In addition, it is true that in Indonesia, art is underappreciated. Especially murals. There is still a common misconception that murals are just ordinary wall paintings painted by unknown artists. They don't even care about the work that goes into making one. And they aren’t willing to pay dearly for murals.

Maybe the market hasn't been able to see the meaning of the mural itself. IMURAL’s tagline is "We believe art gives space meaning". What do you mean by that?

R: We believe that every mural made can increase the value or function of every space. We really appreciate the process of making murals. So before making it, we brainstorm what the function of the room is, who uses it frequently, the client’s personality, and so on.

We believe that murals are not just the best or most beautiful decoration, but they must serve a purpose.

Most artists will only work on client requests. If they were asked to draw Winnie the Pooh, they will. This does not happen at IMURAL. If deemed inappropriate for the purpose, character, and function, we will suggest other images or colors.

This is why you came up with the Red System?

R: Yes, it is true.

For your information, IMURAL has several unique selling points offered to clients, namely using the Red System, the best quality results, and made by the best artist in this field.

What is the Red System and what are its advantages?

R: Take a look at other companies, for example, Ogilvy. What distinguishes them from other advertising companies is their unique way of solving problems. It is called the Ogilvy Way.

Similarly, we don't want to be the same as an independent muralist or other companies in the field. We created the Red System based on best practice during the years of working in this field and turned it into a seamless thought process. We will update this system regularly.

This Red System is our pathway for working on requests from clients. Starting from brainstorming with clients, creating digital concepts and sketches, the coloring process before we can, finally, apply it on the wall. Each process must go through the approvals of both parties - of the production team and the client - to help ensure that quality is well maintained.

Do you believe the people who work at IMURAL are the best artists?

R: The process of making murals doesn't only require painting skills. Muralists must be able to make sketches, present to clients, and work their magic on the wall. Design or communication are also important skills for a muralist. If we can't find the complete package in one person, we decide to break up the parts.

Each part aligned with a person's skills and abilities. With a system like this, we are able to give the best results to clients more efficiently. We also do not depend on one or two reliable muralists. Teamwork is more important.

The latest product from IMURAL is Augmented Reality. Is it easy to market such products/services in Indonesia?

R: Just like the obstacles we have discussed. The problem is with the budget.

What are the advantages of this Augmented Reality Mural? Can it be a game-changer in the world of art and business?

Simple as this. Augmented Reality works like a filter on Instagram. The pictures on the wall of your shop or coffee shop are now able to move. You get paintings as backgrounds for static photos, as well as Augmented Reality which can be made into more dynamic videos.

People now heavily depend on social media. Anything that is cool and interesting will be photographed and shared with social media. This is an advantage in terms of marketing and branding. Instead of posting only 1 photo, people are now able to post 15 seconds of video on Instagram Stories. Viewers are now, to a certain degree, able to remotely experience our art.

This becomes a competitive advantage for your store, inviting people to come and experience our art in person.

Does Augmented Reality require a special app?

R: For now, we are still using Instagram filters to turn our art into three-dimensional AR-experience. We want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to access our products.

What to you is IMURAL's biggest achievement?

R: There are two of the most memorable.

First, we have collaborated with Disney. At that time, they were running a global campaign to launch two movies, Jungle Book and Finding Dory, and looking for local artists across the country to make 3D painting arts.

Only one representative was chosen for each country and we were fortunate enough to have been chosen as representatives from Indonesia. It's fun when your work is recognized by international brands. We also collaborated with German painters at the time.

Second, when we were asked by the Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan to make one of the murals for the Jakarta-Berlin event. We were allocated space in the Kendal tunnel. The place is very strategic and is often a meeting point for the people of Jakarta resulting in high public exposure. It's great when your work can be seen by many people. Moreover, this was like a dream come true, to make murals in public spaces legally.

Which mural is your favorite?

R: I would rather evaluate IMURAL art from its effects, not in terms of good or bad. In terms of impact, I like the mural we made for Disney and the Jakarta government.

However, from an art perspective, I like the paintings in our office. Free. Wild. Like an unleashed racehorse.

If you can go back to 2013, would you take the same path?

R: This is a tricky question.

The answer is yes. I would still start IMURAL, especially considering the sheer amount of knowledge I gained from this 7-year long process. However, I will make changes to how I run the company and instill different strategies. I wish I could go back to 2013 with all the knowledge I have now. Ah, experience comes with a prize!

How do you keep the fire inside you in running an unusual business like this?

R: There are still many artists out there who are very idealistic and are unable to compromise. On the other hand, there are also artists who find it difficult to meet the needs of their families. This is not like what they portray in movies, where an artist can sit at home while pursuing their passions, and get paid well. That does not happen in the real world.

Therefore, I hope IMURAL can become a forum for the career development of these artists. Our dreams are still the same, making the corners of the space more meaningful through art created by Indonesian muralists.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic had any effect on IMURAL?

R: Yes, of course. We cannot leave the house so many projects cannot be run. We are now in survival mode and trying hard to adapt. We will revamp some products to fit market needs.

"We believe that murals are not just the best or most beautiful decoration, but they must serve a purpose."

What are the future plans for IMURAL?

R: We will create the 2nd brand to target the lower middle-class market. If they don't want to pay dearly for IMURAL's work, then they can get it through our 2nd brand.

In addition, the 2nd brand will also serve as a training center for early-career muralists, before, probably, making their way to IMURAL. We have our own quality standards, but entering IMURAL requires a wider perspective and experience. This can be found in our 2nd brand.

In addition, we also plan to focus on finding clients and projects to stay in the game. If these two things go as planned, maybe we will hold a Bootcamp to develop the skills and experience of the young artists.

It was a very insightful interview with Richard from IMURAL. As he has repeatedly said, business is all about solving problems. Hopefully, IMURAL can see opportunities in this COVID-19 situation and continue to survive in the game!

I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to reach out if you have any comments, suggestions, or even if you want to share your story with our community.

Words : Arya Dharmaputra (@dharmaputra_arya)

Editor : Suraj Vasandani

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