Writing in one of LEKRA's (the Institute of People's Culture, a cultural organisation affiliated to the Indonesian Communist Party) publications of 1958, Hendra professed the following belief that he continuously expressed through his works. "From the people, by the people and for the people. If I am spell bound by this beautiful and truthful sentence, it is because I am in complete agreement with its meaning." (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain - Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, p. 173)
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". (Ibid., p. 166.) These comments viewed alongside the knowledge that he was involved with politically oriented cultural organisations, show that he was strongly attracted to socialist ideologies and deeply concerned with the realities of life for the Indonesian people. However, one should not over-emphasize the political tendencies in the work of Hendra, as his choice to depict the ordinary Indonesian folk pre-dated his involvement with any organisations. It was ultimately the people and the land that mattered to the artist as Astri Wright has keenly observed " a Gauguin who did not need to leave his country to find his paradise." (Ibid., p. 181.)
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 expressive paintings from this period are charged with profound emotions rarely seen in earlier works. It was also a period when colour took on a pivotal role in Hendra's work as Astri Wright commented " (his paintings) radiate with colour - clashing, surprising sweet - but somehow almost always brilliantly resolved in the composition as a whole." (Ibid., p. 177.)
Painted in 1979, Eggplant seller was executed a year after the artist's release from the prison and it testified to the observation of Astri Wright. The work depicts a vendor selling eggplants to two women and the artist efficiently paints two bodies for three women. The composition allows the artist to play with colours, he alternates the use of contrasting and harmonising colours within the work at times, highlighting areas of the canvas whilst also providing the image with multiple and shifting perspectives. The body in the centre which is flamboyantly dressed (coloured) in Indonesian batik served as a body for both the vendor as well as the woman wearing the yellow scarf. Colours guide the perspectives of the onlookers; while the yellow scarf contrasts sharply with the blue sleeves of the vendor, it blends with the orange-yellow hue on the body hence setting apart the two individuals whilst connecting them to the same body.
Colours also serve to shift perspectives. As the vendor's glance corresponds to the curve of the vegetable, and is in danger of diverting the attention of an onlooker away from the painting. To salvage the situation, Hendra paints the arms and feet of the vendor in striking blue and position the eggplants strategically on the upper and lower corners of the painting, thus completing a circular movement in the work, locking the glances of onlookers successfully within the composition.
Last but not least, the colours serve to constitute a sense of balance as well as rhythm. For instance, in order to counter-balance the predominant blue of the slender arms, Hendra added a contrasting red to the armpit of the woman that enhances a visual effect for the viewer. With a very simple technique of varying the intensity of the colours, Hendra has also successfully created a sense of rhythm with the otherwise plain brown ground which in turn counter-balances the rich and vibrant colours of the main composition.
Whilst colours are essential in the construction of the composition, it is ultimately the women that take the centre stage. "Hendra's women are types, not clearly distinguishable individuals, and many interpretations of their roles and meanings are possible. At the most basic level, they are nourishing, nursing, mothering beauties, voluptous and undulating bodies wrapped in brightly coloured cloth. Their forms are echoed by the forms of papayas, eggplants, and cucumbers. They are young and their long graceful arms, exaggerating the elegant hand movements that are so typically Javanese, contrast with their thick feet with widely spaced toes - the feet of villagers and farmers. This way of depicting feet, as well as the use of exaggerating profiles, with long necks, protruding noses, and large eyes, echoes the stylisation of the human form found in wayang. (he) chooses to use the female form to signify the greater truth and beauty of the land and the people which he simultaneously celebrates and longs for in his work." (Ibid,. p.177)