Lalu Lintas (Street Scene)

Lalu Lintas (Street Scene)
signed and dated 'S. Kerton'80' (lower right)
oil on canvas
71 x 122.5 cm. (28 x 48 in.)
Painted in 1980
Private Collection, Asia
Nationalism and its Transformations: Reflection on Works of Sudjana Kerton, Bandung, Indonesia, 1996 (illustrated, p. 99).

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Lot Essay

One of the key modern artists in Indonesian art, Bandung-born Sudjana Kerton stands out from artistic peers (Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, S. Sudjojono, and the likes) as being the only one to have spent an extensive portion of his life abroad. Living in the West for more than a quarter of a century undoubtedly influenced his style of painting. Lalu Lintas (Lot 34) was painted 1980s, a few years after Kerton’s return to Indonesia, and can be perceived as a consolidation of the influences to his style over the years.

Sudjana Kerton is known for his vibrant and lively figurative works that depict scenes of everyday life in Indonesia. Born during the Indonesia’s struggle for independence from the Dutch, Kerton possessed a profound sense of nationalism as a young man. He held a job as an illustrator for the Patriot newspaper which proved to be an appropriate outlet for him to express his political beliefs freely while honing his natural journalistic sensibilities by recording a range of both great historical moments and ordinary everyday events by hand. To capture every moment in history, Kerton had to be adept in sketching with speed, sometimes given only enough time to pen down the barest essence of the instance. In line with his desire to record and retain a history of the people in his drawings, it also became his natural inclination to collect documents and all possible records of the present.

By the late 1940s, Kerton was amongst the highly recognised and more established artists in Indonesia, yet was always his dream to experience a life abroad for the unhindered exposure to all the world had to offer. Settling down in America, Kerton also travelled widely in Europe. Works produced during this period featured a much cooler and subdued palette, with simplified forms that tended towards Cubism, were notably influenced by the works of key European painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques.

In New York, Sudjana Kerton eventually decided to take up a scholarship by the Art Students League. There, he met Japanese instructor Yasuo Kuniyoshi, who bluntly criticised the lack of spirit in Kerton’s otherwise technically masterful paintings. Kuniyoshi pushed Kerton to go beyond painting for verisimilitude and to strive for a more profound understanding, and representation, of emotions and feelings.

It was Kerton’s trip to Mexico in 1963 that saw the most dynamic shift in his practice. Acquainting himself with the Mexican muralists of the time, rich tropical colours were reintroduced into his palette. With a renewed sensitivity to colour and a developing ability to reduce figures into forms that encapsulated their essence, Kerton’s later works saw the traces of influence from the paintings and murals of Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera.

Painted in 1980, Lalu Lintas reads as the culmination of Kerton’s evolving practice. In a riot of bright colours, cars, buses and rickshaws fill the scene, clamouring for a space in the busy composition. A true representation of haphazard Indonesian traffic, Kerton makes visible the individual faces and expressions of the people packed into the vehicles. While his brushstrokes remain long and languid and his lines as fluid as ever, the scene he depicts buzzes with a disorganised energy. Cars and buses have screeched to a stop, avoiding a mechanic fixing a lorry in the middle of the bustling road. Bodies spill out from the door of the public bus while commuters stare on in a mixture of impatience and curiosity at the obstacle on the street. A motorcycle balances more pillion riders than it should carry, zigzagging through the vehicles. True to Kerton’s brand of humour, the passengers have their arms outstretched, signaling to the car behind them to give way despite going against the flow of traffic. While it is a image that holds its truth in reality even to the present day, it is the artist’s ability to breathe life into the scene with bold colours and decisive strokes that is the true accomplishment. His attention to the individual faces in the painting further mirror his vision of the rakyat kecil. Infused with a strong sense of the community and a sincerity of representation, Lalu Lintas achieves the aims set forth by Sudjana Kerton in the final phase of his practice.

Ostracised from the community upon his return to Bandung in 1976, Kerton's unwavering faith in the figurative distinguished him from the scores of young artists who were fixated on the emotive potential of non-figurative abstraction. It mattered not to Kerton to be recognised as part of a larger group of artists moving forward, but to be true to his intentions as an artist to continue to tell the story of the people through his works.

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