Details
HENDRA GUNAWAN
(Indonesian, 1918-1983)
Life on a Bali Beach
signed and dated 'Hendra 73' (lower right)
oil on canvas
144 x 86 cm. (56 5?8 x 33 7?8 in.)
Painted in 1973
Provenance
Private Collection, Semarang, Indonesia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Private Collection, Jakarta, Indonesia
Literature
Helena Spanjaard, Equinox (Asia), Indonesian Odyssey: A Private Journey through Indonesia's Most Renowned Fine Arts Collections, Singapore, 2008 (illustrated, p. 190).

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Lot Essay

Hendra Gunawan: Master of Genre Painting
If an artist could be called iconic in truly embracing the spirit of his native people with insight, intelligence and humanity, Indonesian master of genre painting Hendra Gunawan would be appropriately hailed as such. Hendra Gunawan was born in Bandung, West Java, in 1918. Born into a working class family, the young Hendra's interest in painting flourished early and he first wielded his brush as a scenery painter for a theatrical troupe. During a chance meeting with expressionist master Affandi in 1939, Hendra became determined to take painting as his vocation and later participated in the Sanggar Pelukis Rakyat (People's Artists' Studio) in Yogyakarta, Central Java together with another modern art luminary, Sudjana Kerton. These fellow artists - Affandi, Kerton, Hendra and also S. Sudjojono - were to live through one of the most tumultuous periods in Indonesian history, beginning with World War II and concluding with the resistance against the Dutch and struggles for national independence. They also became involved with the communist-sponsored Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (known as LEKRA, or the People's Cultural Association) and Hendra Gunawan was imprisoned in the aftermath of the abortive Indonesian communist coup in 1965 for thirteen years, until his release in 1978. The social issues and hardship of this period were the linchpins for his rhapsodic yet politically charged genre scenes.

Drawing on rural themes commonly seen in Indonesian village life, Hendra Gunawan tends to depict the humblest subjects and the reality of their daily life. The thread running through all his major works is the indomitable spirit of the Indonesians at work or play, with a boundless sense of celebration and festivity in everyday life or during ritual performances, and occasionally caught in the poignancy of grief and suffering. Under his brush, farmers, market dwellers and fisherfolk acquire dignity, humour and even a lush seductiveness, portrayed through their bold gazes and vigorous attitudes. The backdrop of markets and temples, replete with native animals and tropical vegetation, are often fully and dramatically illustrated. Women and their representation within society and family life are a particular focus for Hendra. Opposed to the traditional society where women are often marginalised or cast in the background, Hendra instead chooses to celebrate Indonesian women as bountiful and necessary characters in the fabric of modern living.

Life on a Bali Beach: A Nationalistic Homage to Indonesian Women

This present artwork Life on a Bali Beach is a masterful narration of Hendra Gunawan's thematic impulses. It depicts a woman reclining on a beach of clean white sand, while in the distant horizon are scattered trees and Balinese pura . She is drawn with strong features and physical grace, wearing draped, brightly patterned fabrics and displaying lithe, wiry limbs, highly reminiscent of Hendra's inspirations from traditional carvings and Sundanese puppetry. A young toddler clings to her skirts, while an older child playfully springs up on her wearing a traditional wayang mask. Around her feet, a flock of domestic pigs rootle in the sand. This joyful moment of family cohesiveness during a routine work day of pasturing farm animals reveals Hendra's deep empathy for the family unit and the sheltering embrace of a mother for her children.

Art historian Astri Wright comments: "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 widely spaced toes. This [K] echoes the stylization of the human form found in wayang ."

However, there are also deeper spiritual and philosophical issues being articulated here. Painted in 1973, Hendra had by this time been imprisoned for eight years and it would be another five before he experienced freedom. Familial love was non-existent for the artist as his own wife and children were on the other side of prison walls. At this stage in his artistic career, he was elevating his spirits through use of a brighter, fresher colour palette, but at the same time also expressing his unmitigated belief in the possibility of an independent Indonesia. The composition of a family portrait expresses his own yearning for a complete family, and the heartfelt prayer that every Indonesian family would remain intact with no other existential concerns apart from eking out their day to day subsistence - a simple form of happiness no matter how laborious, and inset with small hidden joys as seen in Life on a Bali Beach.

Apart from thematic concerns, Life on a Bali Beach can be considered one of Hendra Gunawan's masterpieces for its technical vibrancy and skill, which allows it to stand amongst his best, most peerless compositions. It brings to mind another work by the artist, Mother and Children (Fig. 1). Composed along a vertical axis, Hendra uses a long narrow format which we often see as a preference in his works from this period. The artwork uses a strong colour palette and spontaneous brushwork, evoking a Fauvist sensibility. The figurelandscape relationship is reminiscent to Henri Matisse's compositional technique within Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) in which the landscape is generally empty and supports the protagonists through a sense of spatial depth created primarily through colour and shape, rather than objects (Fig. 2). The central figures are foregrounded in hues of deep orange and green which contrast sharply with the chiaroscuro rock upon which the mother is perched, and the expanse of beach behind, in shades ranging from white, beige to pale mustard. Most of the action takes place towards the foreground, while the background is only minimally depicted with sparse trees and the barest outlines of pura , suggesting but not quite deliberately portraying the spiritmountains of Bali's Hindu tradition. The brushstrokes which make up the figure of the mother are bold and confident, in the curving stretch of her reclining arm and in the swirls of her skirt fabric. Her face is carefully drawn with thick brows, long dark lashes and a brilliant crimson mouth as she feigns surprise at her playful offspring. The wayang mask is strongly and colourfully defined but it bears a fixed, wooden expression and is physically inclined towards the mother's gaze which is lively and dramatic by comparison. Contrasted with the pigs at the base of the canvas which are only outlined in thick curly black lines, and their sense of leftward motion as though walking away from the viewer, it is easy to see that Hendra intends the focus to be fully on the mother who remains squarely at the centre of the visual attention.

Life on a Bali Beach is a unique and singular example from Hendra
Gunawan's oeuvre, bearing all the hallmarks of the artist's characteristic style and also possessing an impeccable provenance; first from a private collector in Semarang who acquired it directly from the artist, before entering a distinguished private collection in Jakarta. It remains one of the finest genre scenes composed by Hendra Gunawan during his artistic career with its tight composition, visual cohesiveness and above all, the empathetic subject matter which strikes a chord amongst Hendra's collectors today (Fig. 3).
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