Sudjana Kerton
(Indonesian, 1922-1994)
Obat Mustajeb
signed ''79 S. Kerton' (lower right); titled 'Obat Mustajab' (on reverse)
oil on canvas
105.5 x 107 cm. (41 3/4 x 42 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1979

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Lot Essay

Kerton's paintings are multifaceted: they are exaggerated, hilarious, and poignant. They are about water and grain, people and animals, work and play; about times shared and times alone. They are suffused both with a quality of intimate, nostalgic involvement and the more distant perspective of the outsider. With their sharpness, humour, and local as well as universal levels of meaning, they are simultaneously about life in Indonesia and about human beings everywhere.

Astri Wright

Sudjana Kerton stands out as one of the most singular of the key modern artists in Indonesian art. He was the only one amongst contemporaries such as S. Sudjojono, Affandi and Hendra Gunawan to have spent an extensive time abroad.

In 1950, Kerton was invited by STICUSA (Foundation for Cultural Co-operation between Indonesia and Holland) to study art in Holland. This was the beginning of his long absence from Indonesia. He spent more than 20 years abroad, mostly in the United States. He started a shop selling crafts from Indonesia and framing pictures. He demonstrated, taught, and sold batik painting.

While abroad, Kerton voraciously studied Western modern art, and enlarged his visual vocabulary as a painter, and was particularly drawn to the cCubist and expressionist Expressionist aesthetics of artists such as Pablo Picasso, painting both classical art historical subjects as well as subjects from European and American urban life.

In 1976, Kerton returned to Indonesia. His daughter, Tjandra Kerton remembers that 'upon arriving back in his (Kerton's) beloved Indonesia, and feeling the hot sun of the tropics on his face after an absence of many years, my father was struck by an overwhelming feeling of joyousness, and being back in his land seemed to set something off in him - his memories of childhood and youth, which he had not remembered for several years. The act of actually seeing, hearing and smelling the life of Indonesia and Indonesians once again gave him new inspiration."
Understanding the sentiment that Kerton felt allows us to understand the sentimental context upon which Obat Mustajab has been painted. The painting depicts a pair of street side healers, one rubbing the back of a patient and another treating the hair of her patient. Drawing upon the techniques and aesthetics of Picasso's deconstructed figures, Kerton paints figures in their pared-down and most essential forms, omitting realist details. Instead, he celebrates patterns and design, painting the batik wore by a pair of figures in detail. He boldly uses line to delineate the other pair, in a technique reminiscent of how batik as a wax-resist technique works.

Kerton's vision of the rakyat kecil (little people) in Obat Mustajab places him firmly within an art-historical context where artists such as Eugene Delacroix painted from life. The most innovative of modernists such as Picasso made great strides in creating new visual vocabularies. Kerton took a decidedly modern step forward, localising his subjects and expressing a strong sense of communal spirit in a decidedly modern fashion.

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