"What Srihadi paints is not a person in the physical sense, but the essence of a person expressed through the use of splashes of colour which give us the image of the attributes and characteristics of a human being."
- art critic Dan Suwarjono
Widely admired for his vividly colored paintings, Indonesian painter Srihadi Sudarsono has captivated many with his fluid portrayals of beautiful dancers for over half a century.
Armed with the philosophy that art should embody inner spiritual beauty, he reaches out to his audience and helps them connect the visual to the spiritual. In a world that is increasingly fast paced, he aims to use his paintings for self-reflection and reprieve.
Srihadi's dancers form part of an integral theme for the artist. Throughout his career, he has tirelessly refashioned and re-imagined the same subject matter; sometimes making subtle adjustments to the pose, rearranging the composition, varying the proportions or by using different combinations of colours in differing brush strokes and brightness.
As evident in the painting, Srihadi is a skilled colourist. His ability to make use of a limited colour palette here and transforming the dancers into figures of such dynamic energy is noteworthy. Yet this energy that threatens to jump off the page is not the result of strong bold brushstrokes, but through the luscious swirls of colour that seem to engulf the senses and excite the spirit.
The outline of each figure is marred by his short feathery brushstrokes, but allow each dancer to blend into the atmosphere. The effect produced is one of movement, but as though they move involuntarily, dancing amidst the swirling mists of colour.
Srihadi himself talks of "the ongoing interaction between the physical and the non-physical, the mental and the spiritual". This painting seems to wrestle with these issues, the artist having learnt of the old mythical Java from his grandfather, and also having access to modern books and art.
Perhaps what is most compelling about this painting, are the faces of the dancers. Stark pale in comparison to the rest of their bodies, they appear more mask-like than actual faces. Their uncanny similarities and stately expressions come across as serious and ritualistic, as befitting their traditional setting in a royal court.
Like all his figure paintings, this one is also constructed on two axes, the horizontal and vertical. The horizontal axis follows the long supple posture of the body, while the horizontal orientation of the costumes lie along the other.
The angularity and geometry of the composition does little to mar innate femininity of the painting. In fact, it seems to enhance the lithe, gentleness of the dancers. Their long flowing black hair elongate and emphasize the feminine arch of their backs, yet also act as a counterpoint to their pale, opaque faces.
As in all his paintings, Srihadi very seldom paints large crowds or spectacles, preferring instead to concentrate on a few distinct figures, making a public dance performance intimate through the enclosure provided by the canvas.
However, the legong dancers here cannot perceived to be individuals. They come across more as stereotypes or the artist's impression of such dancers. Therefore, the supposed intimacy of the scene seems to degenerate into a snapshot of a moment in time. Again Srihadi makes full use of these paradoxical elements to create ambiguity. It makes for a more varied and interesting interpretation of these beautiful, though oftentimes thought prosaic, paintings.
His works have been exhibited all over Asia, with the most recent one being in his native Indonesia, at the National Museum, Jakarta, last year (2003).