Known as a master of the first generation of Indonesian modernists, Hendra Gunawan’s works celebrate the daily lives of men, women and children in Indonesia. A nationalistic artist, Hendra Gunawan painted works dedicated to Indonesia. His oeuvre can be seen as a pictorial homage to the country, and its people. Drawing on rural themes commonly seen in Indonesian village life, Hendra depicts the humblest subjects and the reality of their daily lives. His paintings express a raw emotion that is juxtaposed with the stylized exaggeration of his figures. His paintings showcase the passion the artist had for capturing the contours and colours of his subjects, and the sensuous body language of his figures are often rendered in rich, lavish hues. Hendra’s figurative paintings are vignettes of the local traditions and activities. Humanity and empathy are two elements integrated into his paintings. Hendra celebrates the land and his nation’s women and working people through his canvases.
The theme of the mother and child has been illustrated and depicted in nearly every art practice and tradition from all around the world as the bond between a mother and a child is the first emotional exchange humans experience with one another. Hendra Gunawan also favoured the theme, and depicted the relationship numerous times throughout his career. Through his art, the artist communicates the importance of women and their roles as mothers, wives, and sisters within Indonesian society.
Hendra uplifts and glorifies the female spirit as active, strong, nurturing, beautiful, and hardworking – irreplaceable to the functioning of everyday life and society. Their curvaceous female bodies are enriched with vivacious colours as the artist highlights the importance of women and their roles in ordinary scenes of daily life.
"Hendra's women are types, not clearly distinguishable individuals, and many interpretations of their roles and meanings are possible. At the most basic level, they are nourishing, nursing, mothering beauties, voluptuous and undulating bodies wrapped in brightly coloured cloth. Their forms are echoed by the forms of papayas, eggplants, and cucumbers. They are young and their long graceful arms, exaggerating the elegant hand movements that are so typically Javanese, contrast with their thick feet with widely spread toes - the feet of villagers and farmers. This way of depicting feet, as well as the use of exaggerated profiles, with long necks, protruding noses, and large eyes, echoes the stylization of human form found in wayang."
The present lot, Shielding from the Rain portrays a woman in the midst of hard labor, picking up a fowl with her right hand and holding another bird with her left. She is drawn with sharp features and a robust and sturdy stance. A painting predominantly painted with hues of dark green, small areas of bright red stand out on the woman’s and young children’s clothing. The mother figure is rendered with murky, earthen tones that echo the background and puddled ground. A young child tightly clings to her back, adding to her load. In a tender reprieve, one of the older children shields the woman from the cold rain with a banana leaf. The work reveals Hendra’s deep empathy for the family unit and the sheltering embrace of a daughter for her mother.
The woman’s downcast gaze mirrors the melancholic atmosphere of the scene, and is juxtaposed against the warmth and intimacy that stems from the postures and of the children. The maternal figure appears singly focused on the task of bringing her children and her goods to safety and shelter, without regard for her own comfort. Another figure can also be seen in the background, her presence being felt clearly only through the foot that appears behind the central figure, suggesting a shared experience of hardship and toil. When compared to the vibrant colours and vast landscapes of Hendra’s later works, this painting presents a more reflective and serious scene. Hendra succeeds in acknowledging the difficulties faced by women as they shoulder the responsibilities of home and family, and pays homage to their unwavering spirit of determination and love.
Another similar work includes Pulang Pasar (Return from the Market), painted in 1975, illustrates a mother with her young child on her back, and carrying various goods. The characteristically dramatic landscape and brightly rendered detail of the women’s skirt presents an entirely different mood to Shielding from the Rain, and showcases Hendra’s artistic range and dedication to a constant reworking of the themes of motherhood and a celebration of national pride.
Painted in 1977, Hendra had by this time been imprisoned for twelve years, and would only be released the following year. During his prison sentence, Hendra was deprived of space and resources, and had to utilize the available materials to create and produce works within the walls of his prison cell. Given the extreme scarcity of available subject matter, the artist produced many self-portraits as well as imagined scenes. He became more in touch with his psychological states than he had ever been before, and this was reflected in the paintings from the period. The result of these harsh conditions resulted in a dramatic shift in his palette and style, and produced some of the most introspective and expressive works of the artist’s career. The present composition and tone of this somber family portrait expresses the artist’s appreciation for the sacrifices one would be willing to make for his family as he yearned for a return to familial comfort and love.