In the publisher's foreword to the catalogue Paintings from the Collection of Adam Malik: Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, an articulation about the spiritual place of art stands out - "The higher the life tension as a characteristic of life nowadays, the more we are in need of enjoying artistic values that can give a sense of balance against the tension. Many tourists spend their valuable holidays just to enjoy beautiful panoramas with their mountains, ravines and lakes. There are some people who get the balance against the tension by searching the real values which are in the various arts and culture. All this is a spiritual need in the physical balance. Thereby we attain the continuity and harmony of life." (H. Machmud, Paintings from the Collection of Adam Malik: Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, PT Intermasa, Jakarta, Indonesia, 1978, p. 7)
Such articulations retain a timeless relevance in viewing and appreciating the works of Hendra Gunawan. Formerly in the private collection of Adam Malik, the present work, Angon Kerbau (Tending Buffalos) truly reflects the paradigm that sees aesthetically pleasing works of art as cultural artifacts that reflect the highest values of creative aspirations. Hendra Gunawan's profound love for his country, expressed in a romantic palette, is well exemplified here with the lyrical portrayal of a commonplace scene such as cowherds tending to buffalos.
The composition reveals itself differently across the span of the picture plane. At the foreground, five young cowherds are bringing their buffalos and traversing deeper into the picture. A little dialogue ensues between them, a single cowherd on the middle left with an outstretched arm orchestrating the processional path and lending a sense of dynamism to the picture. A grand tree overhanging a slight ravine shades the procession of buffalos and overhangs a lake on the right side of the picture. Hendra paints a recurring landscape in the background, an undulating landscape of knolls and rolling hills painted with his characteristically resplendent colours.
Hendra is painting a world with which he is intimately familiar, a world with which he was deeply involved from childhood until death and this is best illustrated in his sensuous depiction of tropical landscapes and people. The landscape, especially in the background, is a tapestry of colours, pleasingly distributed over the canvas, well illustrating the adroitness and skill of Hendra Gunawan as colourist. In the rest of the landscape painted in the cool blue-greenish tone that contrasts with the riotous colours that mostly renders his human subjects, Hendra presents very well the grandiose of the Indonesian landscape, composing a picture breathtaking in its combination of realism and romantic elements.