Astri Wright, art historian and renowned scholar of Southeast Asian Art, wrote that Hendra Gunawan "is acclaimed, nearly universally, as one of the best painters in the history of modern Indonesian painting..." (Astri Wright,"Painting the People," Modern Indonesian Art, Three Generations of Tradition and Change 1945 – 1990, Joseph Fischer, ed., Singapore National Printers Ltd., Singapore, 1990, p. 118.)
In 1978, Hendra Gunawan was finally released from Kebon Waru prison after having spent thirteen years behind bars without trial at Kebon Waru, due to his links to a Communist Party-affiliated art association. Potret Sendiri Dan Anak (Self Portrait with Child), which was painted in the same year of his liberation, can perhaps be viewed as a celebration of freedom, family reunion and the restoration of the domesticity he craved and missed for over a decade. It was exhibited at the Lima Bandung (The Bandung Five Collective) exhibition, together with works by Affandi, Barli, Wahdi, and Sudarso, on October 24 - 29 at Taman Ismail Marzuki, the leading venue for culture and art in Jakarta during that time. The present work was one of the works at the exhibition that was reviewed positively by Bambang Bujono in the Arts section of Tempo magazine.
The colour and composition of the present work is rarely found in Hendra's oeuvre. Only two other paintings with the same subject matter have been published in several publications. All of the works feature a middle-aged Hendra sitting on a carved stone depicting the head of a mythical monster; perhaps a symbol of him conquering the dark forces that can no longer harm him. His young child sits on his lap, playing with his long mustache. However, the present rendition is the only one in which Hendra is depicted gazing lovingly at his child's face instead of nostalgically looking into the distance, creating direct intimacy. Instead of the usual diagonal division of the picture plane, Hendra divided the painting into quadrants of orange, lime and lemon, magenta and amethyst, and placed himself in the center. His vermillion red top anchors the composition while his rainbow-coloured limbs extend into a psychedelic network of fuchsia, pink, red, Prussian blue, vermillion, and emerald, as if everything in that space is within his reach. The vibrant colours surrounding him evoke immense joy and optimism.
The rare self-portrait depicts a bittersweet contemplation, juxtaposing the artist's ageing but peaceful and contented visage against the enthusiastic and innocent child in his loving embrace. Reveling in his freedom, Hendra Gunawan also recognized the importance of passing on the legacy of his experiences and instilling hope in future generations. In describing his paintings, Hendra said, "My painting describes undemanding people. Humanist paintings." (Agus Dermawan T., Hendra Gunawan dan Pikiran-pikiran yang Terempas, KOMPAS, October, 2001, translated). Ever the consummate visual storyteller and master of the modern narrative painting, Hendra's Potret Sendiri Dan Anak (Self Portrait with Child) conveys a poignant message about endurance, optimism, hope, conviction, faith, love, family, and what it means to be human.
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