The theme of the mother and child is a well-established one in nearly every art tradition. Safe, comforting, and religious, this theme has been refashioned in so many ways that it has now become a challenge for modern artists to paint it creatively.
Hendra Gunawan tackles this subject numerous times throughout his career. He is particularly inspired by the interaction between the mother and her child and has painted many variations on the theme. Illustrated below are two similar lots sold by Christies in recent years.
The lot here features a more traditional composition - with the woman seated and the young toddler on her lap. The eye is immediately drawn to the elongated and exaggerated hands of the woman engulfing her child. The large hands signify strength and grace, and remind one of the lithe, gentle Indonesian dances.
Motherhood is celebrated here. The woman exudes an exuberance that is infectious. Her body is lush and voluptuous, her breasts exaggeratedly rounded and full. She is fecund and nurturing, much like Mother Nature herself.
Hendra uses rich primary colours to emphasise his idealisation of the subject. The redness of the woman's dress contrasts beautifully with the blue-green of the background and the bright yellow of the child's shirt.
Notice how the background is neatly divided into two parts. The top portion depicts a blurry, idealised landscape in the distance, while the bottom half depicts the foreground where the woman is. The sense of perspective is distorted, but the juxtaposition of the brown and blue makes for stunning visual impact.
It can be also observed that Hendra has a tendency for painting his landscapes a bluish green. In this lot, the one before and the next one, his backgrounds have similar colour palettes. Perhaps it is an association with the sea that Hendra is going for. The organic interplay between man and nature is highly important to Hendra and the relaxed stance of the mother and child indicate that they are comfortable and at ease with their surroundings.
What is most unusual about this painting is the way the child's face is turned away from the mother's. They are both facing the same direction instead of each other. Their gaze is directed beyond the confines of the canvas. This brings in a further dimension to the painting as it now involves and invites the participation of the viewer. It demands a three-dimensionality for itself that is very self conscious and thoroughly modern.