Ken Pattern

The other week I came across the work of Ken Pattern in a gallery in Kemang. His drawings and lithographs are stunning for both the precision of their execution and for their capturing of a world in flux. His depictions of traditional neighborhoods (most people would call them slums) in the dense conurbations of Southeast Asia, especially Jakarta, create images of striking juxtaposition. The glass-skin skyscrapers towering over banana groves growing in shared community spaces, women carrying water buckets on bamboo poles along narrow passages through urban kampungs, the refuse in the street contrasting with the skyline in the distance, the vegetation sprouting in verges and flower pots supple beside the straight lines of concrete buildings…this is what it is like to live in these cities, especially beyond the bubble of affluence.

Pattern’s drawing style (could an artist who works with fine lines have a  more appropriate last name?) is almost hyper-realistic and the images seem to vibrate with an intensity that elevates them beyond documentary and into lived experience. The trick, if there is one, is the density of his lines. In a world dominated by pixelated screens, experiencing an image based on line reorganizes the visual field in dramatic ways. His art stands between a folk tradition — the traveling sketch artist — and an old-fashioned technique of newspaper engraving, a kind of visual journalism that predates cameras. Applied to the modern age, the effect is mesmerizing, both an aesthetic experience and a record of a place in transition.

Check out the gallery on his webpage at


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