signed and dated 'SRIHADI 1960' (lower right)
oil on canvas
86 x 121.5cm. (33 7/8 x 47 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1960
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in the 1960s
Private Collection, USA

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Emmanuelle Chan
Emmanuelle Chan Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Day and Online Sales

Lot Essay

Srihadi Soedarsono was born in 1931 in the city of Surakarta, also known as Solo in Central Java, Indonesia. Growing up, his family were batik artisans which largely influenced his traditional and cultural approach in his artistic career that began in the 1950s.

1960 marked an important event in the artist's life as he travelled to Columbus in the United States on a scholarship to pursue a Master's degree in Art at Ohio State University. When he arrived there, the abstract expressionist movement was experiencing a transition to other movements like pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. This shift was attributed to historical events between the world and America that shaped different thoughts and responses. As a visitor in a foreign country, Soedarsono was exposed to the new thought processes and developing artistic techniques of his fellow artist friends. Throughout his time there, he absorbed artistic trends theoretically, but remained loyal in creating his own abstract style of work which always alluded strongly back to his Javanese roots. Despite being far away from home, he was adamant about not losing his heritage and culture, incorporating these references always back to his work.

Puppetry also known as Wayang in Bahasa is popular in Java. It refers to an artistic and ritualistic performance, which is key in enhancing thought and reflection on one's life in relation to the world as an Indonesian. The symbolism of puppets is also anthropologically significant in storytelling. It was apt then that it would become a cultural exchange and bridge between friends who came from two opposite ends of the world.

The present lot Puppets, is a rare abstract painting by Soedarsono executed in 1960, and was acquired directly by the present owner who was also a friend of the artist. This unique provenance lends itself to the meaningful friendship forged while he was in America. There are five colourful silhouettes of puppets, three prominently in the foreground and two in the background on opposite ends of the painting. Their almost unrecognizable figurative likeness are profiled with raw, textural lines and shapes that form a rhythmic allegory against the black backdrop. The style of work is a combination of abstraction coupled with deconstructed characteristics of cubism.

Another important facet of the work aligns with Soedarsono's expertise in the colour field, and his understanding of the psychology behind it. In Asia, it is common for colour to possess meaning and represent traits, Java included. Traditionally, this is known as Bang Bin Tolu where most specifically the colours white, black, red and yellow are related to the term. These colours are used cleverly and with striking contrast in Puppets; in particular Soedarsono enjoys using black as it lends an air of mystery, yet creates a sense of depth and stability. Through his visually arresting works, embedded with the nuances of Rasa, an Indonesian word that refers to expressing feelings that are intuitive; he continues to share his belief in the ability of art to enrich the soul and imagination

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