By the 1960s, Hendra Gunawan had already formulated a personal artistic vocabulary that combined his experience in different artistic fields and media. Inspired not only by the various waves of modernism that he learnt second-hand from books and magazine, but also by his deep understanding of the incredibly rich store of the Javanese visual and folkloric heritage, and by his observation of Java's grand landscapes and natural history, his paintings became a highly original, simple yet profound syncretic expression of his own reality.
Women always occupy the star role in Hendra's oeuvre. As Astri Wright remarked, "Hendra's women are nourishing, nursing, mothering beauties, voluptuously busty, their undulating bodies wrapped in bright-colored cloth... They are young and their long graceful arms. Exaggerating the elegant hand-movements that are so typically Indonesian, contrasting with their thick feet with wide-spaced toes—the feet of villagers and farmers. .. Hendra celebrates female beauty, suppleness and strength, placing his women in nature, as integral parts of it, with babies and children as signs of ongoing procreation—a process, it seems, in which men seem to play a secondary role. One might say that Hendra's work mirrors a universe divided into male and female spheres, where the men are the revolutionary and fighters, the actors of history, and the women are the maintainers of life and nature." (Astri Wright, Painting the People, Modern Indonesian Art: Three Generations of Tradition and Change, 1945-1990, Edited by Joseph Fischer, Singapore: Singapore National Printers Ltd., 1990, p. 128).
Woman By The Beach, is a beautiful example of Hendra's veneration of women and it conveys the sympathy, compassion, affection and resilience he shared with them. A lone figure, her windswept hair partially in a chignon, is seated atop a hill slope, below which can be seen a bay where fishermen are busy at their work. In the distance is the expanse of the deep blue sea and cerulean sky. Devoid of the disfiguring colours on their skin, the lady is depicted as fair and delicate, dressed in elegant kebayas and sarongs that the artist has meticulously and colourfully detailed. The patterns stand out before the bland expanse of sand and the monotonous tones of sea and sky. Hendra seems to be deliberately succumbing to beauty.
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