- Reclining Nude
- signed and dated 1966
- oil on canvas
Private Collection, Indonesia
Private Collection, Singapore
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An iconic work by Affandi, Reclining Nude is an exceptional example of the modern artist’s leading edge and bold spirit. Though Affandi’s nude works are primarily painted in lime and yellow hues, the present lot stands as the only known, purely ‘red’ nude. This exceptionally rare painting embodies his tenacious, lifelong endeavor to overcome conventional attitudes of society, and contest the status quo. During the modest time period from which this painting hails, using the bare, female form as a conduit to conjure sensuality was truly revolutionary. Affandi’s determination through every step of the process is unmistakable; from traveling across the globe to find models willing to pose unclothed to waiting for those moments of raw, burning inspiration. Despite the fact that, in the conservative motherland, works such as the present lot could offend the sense of propriety1, Affandi continued painting nudes from the 40s until the end of his life.
Artists from the Italian Renaissance left an indelible and revolutionary mark in art history when they portrayed reclining nudes as hallowed goddesses, such as the revered sleeping Venus. They would subsequently instigate legions of painters to conjure images of unclothed women behind the secure guise of mythology until the 19th century, when the Odalisque canon provided painters with the artistic liberty to depict overtly titillating concubines. However, it was only after the 20th century when ordinary nude women were represented, sans any allegorical attributions. Affandi, too, made no attempts to mask their backgrounds with classicism.
In accordance with his Western contemporaries, Affandi studied the female form by painting numerous nude works. He began by painting a number of nudes of his wife Maryati, the poet Chairal Anwar’s girlfriend and his own daughter, observing them meticulously in order to master human anatomy However, it was really when Affandi travelled that he found a more liberating environment to paint nudes. He then went on to hire women market vendors, and prostitutes in different places like Bandung, Jakarta, Bali, Yogya, and Banyuwangi as well as Paris, London, Baltimore and Bangkok to model for him unclothed.2
Affandi’s works were beyond mere studies of the female form as they portrayed and divulged the intimate human experience through the correspondingly intimate act of painting. As a humanist painter who theatrically projected his emotions through his painted subjects, Affandi was overwhelmingly stimulated by this voluptuous nude laying before him and consequently, he felt an urge to render her. The relationship of the painting hand and the vigilant eye was expanded to celebrate thought, sensation, feeling, the abject, and desire. He would pursue nude women who could provoke dramatic tension in which the viewer could grasp some traces of the tragedy of human life. “Regarding the theme of human beings for my works, I’m only interested in subjects that tell me their stories,” Affandi said. Affandi was not the type of artist who created works based on rich imaginations or intangible fantasies. He needed inducements from objective phenomena outside him. Therefore, intense rapport with his subjects was a prerequisite.
In the present lot, the model’s sinuous body commands the pictorial width of the canvas. In her recumbent posture she assumes a somnolent countenance, her heavy-lidded eyes evasively gazing downward and away from the viewer. The saturated palette used to color her flushed skin echoes the blossoming flowers scattered around her bed. The fiery red pigment, applied with raw spontaneity directly from the tube, serves as an embodiment of his fervent passion. The present lot is a highly charged image, with lascivious undertones. Despite the raw nakedness, the woman is a strong and confident one, laid bare, yet in control of the artist’s desires.
Executed in 1966, this eminent work is so telling of the dynamism of the ‘Father of Modern Indonesian Art’, a man who unapologetically broke conventional social mores for the sake of art. The artist was known for his visual analysis of modern society, oftentimes finding the themes for his paintings in everyday human interactions and activities. Affandi sought to replicate the relationships that he experienced into the narratives of his paintings. Partly a discussion on existing social values, the artworks also placed a mirror up towards modernization to inspire commentaries from the audience. The paintings dedicated to the nude art genre followed in this vein.
Reclining Nude perfectly exemplifies Affandi’s personal philosophy of celebrating the female nude in a new and refreshing manner. The woman radiates a strength and honesty that overwhelms the historical confinements of traditional nude compositions. She has reclaimed her identity as a sensual being, ultimately redefining the concept of femininity in such a male-centric context. While Affandi has appropriated the creative vocabulary of the nude art genre, the woman in the present piece champions the artist’s great passion to represent life with complete honestly.
1 Sardjana Sumichan, Affandi, Vol II, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Jakarta, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2007, p. 157
2 Refer to 1, p. 159