THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
There is no doubt that Hendra Gunawan is one of Indonesia's greatest pioneers of modern art. Using non-traditional, European visual elements, he nevertheless created works which were Indonesian in feeling and in experience. This private collection was put together with great tenacity and utter support for the artist, despite his works being considered by many to be politically sensitive. There was also a very special friendship between artist and collector, both of whom corresponded frequently, discussing issues of Hendra's genre painting.
After his death in 1983, Hendra was described as "an artist whose 'Indonesian-ness' was indisputable, and a man whose 'infatuation with the people', as well as with the republic, was lifelong" (Astri Wright, Soul, spirit and mountain: preoccupations of contemporary Indonesian painters, 1994:166, quoting from the 18, 19 & 20 July 1983 editions of KOMPAS). These comments, viewed alongside the knowledge that he was involved with politically oriented cultural organisations, show that he was strongly influenced by political ideologies and socially concerned about the realities of life for the ordinary Indonesian people.
From the very beginning it seems, Hendra was already painting scenes of everyday events with ordinary Indonesian folk. Thus, his choice of a genre subject-matter was well established even before he joined LEKRA (the Institute of People's Culture, a cultural organisation affiliated to the Indonesian Communist Party) and he continued to use it in his paintings throughout his life, very rarely veering away from the sensibilities of working-class Indonesia. The strong emotions imbued in the numerous scenes of revolutionary struggle are made effective in the composition of the paintings. With his penchant for working on large, often elongated, canvases, Hendra would populate the pictorial space with crowded scenes of people at the market, on the beach, at festivals and performances, always emphasising the actors' relationships and interaction with each other.
In the aftermath of the 1965 anti-Communist purge, Hendra was imprisoned for 13 years for his involvement with LEKRA. This long imprisonment left him with an intense longing for his family and the outside world, and the paintings from this period are charged with an emotional and profound expressivity rarely seen in earlier works. As Astri Wright so succinctly described, "the paintings from these years are filled with the themes of longing and past togetherness, depicting personal involvement between a few people, often a man and a woman or a man and a child, and wonderfully open vistas." (Wright, "Painting the People" in Modern Indonesian Art, 1990:129).
A number of the paintings from this collection comes from this period of imprisonment. Ibu dan dua anak (lot 114) was painted then, and here we are presented with two contrasting views, one close-up on the foreground with the young family, and the other, a distant open seascape as the background. The bold vibrant colours of the beach scene and the batik sarong worn by the mother, however, contrast sharply with the pensive expressions of the family who appears to be fatherless. Perhaps it is symbolic of his yearning for his new wife and family. Hendra's symbolism and lyricism are manifest in many ways, rendering his subjects in jarring colours, and using textural areas and exaggerated shapes that echo other forms.