(Indonesian, B. 1931)
Baris Dance - The Warriors
signed and dated 'Srihadi S 96' (upper right); signed and dated again, and titled 'Baris Dance - The Warriors' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
150 x 200 cm. (59 1/16 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1996
Jean Cocteau, Srihadi Soedarsono: The Path of the Soul, Lontar, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2003 (illustrated, p. iii)

Lot Essay

Hailed as one of the most significant living modern Indonesian painter, Srihadi Soedarsono's art is an expression of the spirit of modernism. As his career parallels the history of modern Indonesia, it is also important to remember how the culture and history of Java has shaped his works and outlook in life. Hence even as he is acknowledged as one of the most representative abstract Indonesian artist, we see in his career a bridge between tradition and modernity, between figuration and abstraction.

Some of Srihadi's most well-known productions are undoubtedly his dancer paintings. In a way, Srihadi's dancers are akin to the Edgar Degas' dancers for the profound and unceasing inspiration both artists find in the world of dance and dancers. For them, dance is an entry into another cosmos, where the physical and the spiritual unite.

The present lot, Baris Dance - The Warriors, hails from a sub-series of Srihadi's famous dance paintings. In its essence, the Baris dance is a Balinese warrior dance, which glorifies the manhood of the triumphant Balinese warrior. These warriors were linked to their regencies and were famous for selflessly defending their king and homeland. The word baris means line or file, referring to the lines of warriors that served the kings of the regencies in Bali. The short spear used to be the weapon of choice of the warriors but today, the dancer may bear a kris, a spear, a bow, or other weapons, depending on the variant performed. A good Baris dancer must undergo rigorous training to obtain the skill and flexibility that typifies the chivalrous elegance of the dance.

Baris Dance - The Warriors is one of the most accomplished of his warrior paintings. As Jean Couteau the art critic had noted, 'Srihadi takes the idea of movement to its extreme, by freezing a moment or moments in a dance performance.' In the present lot, the two warriors are immortalized in nearly identical poses, their left arms raised courageously with their spears - streaks of white impasto, discernible but barely so, trailing behind them. Their facial expression is one of absolute concentration and speaks of immovable resolve, and is set in contrast to the vibrating bodily movement characteristic of the dance. It is a painting powerful and bold in its depiction of the warriors and yet executed with such confidence and consummate grace that only a painter who has totally mastered his craft, and who has spent considerable time and effort immersing into the spirit and physical manifestation of the dance can muster.

The regalia and dress of the two dancers mirror each other, and the entire composition reveals a calculated placement of impasto, colours and forms. What is most characteristic and bold in the artist's execution is the so-called white on white composition, attempted sparingly by Srihadi in this work and one other warrior painting, Warriors (1992), which is smaller in size and complexity of composition. To be more precise, in many of the white on white works, the white impasto is overlaid on a layer of white and grey paint. Painting in this manner allows Srihadi to dramatise the pictorial ground, emphasizing the sense of dynamic movement.

Perhaps the most distinct character of Srihadi as painter is the diverse and extremely developed way he employs colours in his works. Baris Dance - The Warriors uses a very limited palette of white, ochre, red and black. Though apparently unremarkable, the choice of colours in fact reflects the deep-seated Javanese cultural identity of the artist. Five years before executing this painting, Srihadi had completed an unusual abstract work, Alif Lam Mim: Allah the Omniscient (1991), which represented the first three letters of the Koran, but with a significant layer of symbolism achieved through the colour palette. Srihadi himself explained that '[t]he repetition of these three letters in different colours are also symbols of the four basic colours in ancient Javanese thought - white, red, black and ochre - and the associated traits of man. White symbolizes purity, patience and generosity and negatively, passivity, weakness and pessimism. Red symbolizes energy, will, and courage, but also anger, aggressiveness, and rapacity. Black represents strength, steadfastness, and consistency but negatively, laziness and dissipation. Yellow represents hope, joy, and optimism, but also jealousy, indifference, and arrogance.'

Baris Dance - The Warriors offers what can be described as a panoramic span of human life, showing the realities of the material world through the dancers but also a part of what is transcendental - the gestures and feelings that are so much a part of human psyche but which is hard to immortalise on paper. In Srihadi's world of dancers, the individual dancers are not identified as particular individuals but each one of them symbolizes the very essence of poise and concentration.

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