SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)
PROPERTY OF AN ENGLISH PRIVATE COLLECTION
SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)

Wayang Golek

Details
SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)
Wayang Golek
signed and dated 'S. KERTON' 82' (lower right)
oil on canvas
100.5 x 150.5 cm. (39 5/8 x 59 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1982
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1983

Brought to you by

Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

"I am part of every subject I paint, I share the feelings, the happiness, the misery, the hunger or thirst, the rain, the heat. This is why I paint from memory, to be able to express my inner feelings more clearly, and why the lines in my paintings (are) often distorted." – Sudjana Kerton

Born in 1922, Sudjana Kerton belonged to the first generation of Modern Indonesian painters who came of age during the period of struggle for national independence. Sudjana Kerton’s close relationship to the ordinary people during this period of turmoil made a lasting impression in his defending and depictions of the communal interest of ordinary people. Kerton’s artistic oeuvre was constantly revolving around the themes of everyday life, and he built lifelong connections with the traditions and customs of Indonesian daily scenes and life. This gave him a deep sense of empathy, humility and inspiration. That connection always gave him the inspiration for his aesthetic expression and was a powerful motivation to always remember and pay attention to the traditional arts, including the subject that he depicted in the present lot. Wayang Golek (Lot 59) is an extraordinary work by the artist that we rarely see in the present-day - to own this work is indeed a rare privilege.

Back in the early days, the Wayang (puppets and theatre) performance was a highly sociable event throughout Indonesia where the community would gather around to enjoy the lively entertainment. Wayang Golek is one of the wayang variations that is well-known from the western part of Java. Differing from the Wayang Kulit, which is required to be performed at night with light to create the silhouette of the characters, Wayang Golek is an arguably improved version of its predecessor. Made out of wooden parts, Wayang Golek is able to be performed during the day to a wider audience. In the present lot, the performance is portrayed vivaciously. A Wayang Golek troupe is seen in the middle of performance, surrounded by an enthusiastic audience on the left side of the canvas. The troupe is seen accompanied by a group of gamelan (percussion) players completed with a pair of Sinden (Singers) to serenade the performance. The Dalang (Puppeteer) is seen moving or playing with the puppets simultaneously in order to create the narrative of the story presented, while the rest of the puppets are placed in front of him, before they are used in the performance. It is with this work that Kerton displays the full array of the complexity of his vision and talent. It is presented masterfully, with no obvious division of the audience and performers in this composition. Kerton successfully weaves all intricate elements together and make them harmonized and balanced at the same time. One can also say that through this painting, Kerton made the performance as an event for everyone, both for the performers and the audience.

With this work too, we can also see Kerton’s matured and unique artistic approach taking shape. Having spent most of his life abroad prior to coming back to Bandung in 1976, Kerton’s artistry was heavily influenced by the Western painting tradition that he was exposed to. Travel was at the heart of Kerton’s practice as he honed his knowledge and gathered influences along his journey abroad. His time spent abroad was instrumental to the shift in his outlook towards art and life, eventually paving the way for the development of a matured technique and refined style brought to his later paintings. Without a doubt, this makes his works unrivaled compared with his fellow Indonesian artists such as, Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and S. Sudjojono, while thematically their works are similar. In comparison to Kerton’s traveling series works, we can see the impetus to place real life experience in a narrative message begin to surface more and more in the current painting. Figures and objects are more recognizable with some distortion of forms, breathing new dynamic into his canvas with a trace of Picasso’s figurative works. With articulate yet carefree line work, Kerton outlined each figure in the simplest manner and at the same time carefully gives rich detail to the surrounding such as the detail of carpets and batik clothes. In addition, Kerton’s warm choice of colours imbues the painting with a cordial setting. With the early twilight casting an afterglow down on the scene, the performance becomes the highlight of the day to many. It is without a doubt that Wayang Golek is one of Kerton’s most remarkable celebrations of tradition and community – ideals which were very important to him. The work reflects life back to us with simplicity and truth. It was a subject close to his heart, where Kerton felt most naturally a manifestation of self and an expression of pure love for the nation. 

Painted after Kerton returned to Indonesia from the US, Wayang Golek and another Kembang (Flower) still life work (Lot 220) was then acquired by the current ownerand his wife in 1983. They were introduced through a friend after Sudjana Kerton first moved back to Bandung, Indonesia, after his long sojourn overseas in the late 1970s. The two families became friends through times spent together. From then on, the paintings were kept in the family possession in London and became a constant reminder of the friendship and days gone by living in Bandung. A letter was even sent by the artist to the owner when they acquired the works, attesting to the deep friendship and camaraderie they enjoyed.

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