Srihadi’s seascapes are particularly famous for their simplicity, structured on a seemingly uncomplicated formulation: the dialectical encounter between earth, sea and sky, connoted by the horizontal juxtaposition of two or three distinctly defined color fields. Bali Beach stands out as a testament to Srihadi’s ability to stage a complex interplay of composition, contrast and lighting with relative iconographic economy. In Bali Beach, a few decisive brushstrokes in white traversing the horizon divide the canvas into the higher and lower realms, with the upper quadrant dominated by a deep, inky shade of indigo, compelling the viewer to contemplate the infinite vastness of the cosmos, simultaneously evoking awe and quietude. The middle field of the painting, on the other hand, is bathed in various hues of cool tones, with nuanced hints of cerulean and viridian, to suggest the stillness of the water, as well as specks of amber to suggest the luminous effect of moonlight on the ocean. An irregular streak of white, conveyed by a few choice brushstrokes, conjures the lapping waves of the ocean, demonstrating Srihadi’s finesse as a colorist. The final third of the work is covered in sublayers of ochre, off-black and charcoal, seemingly invoking the varying telluric textures of Bali’s beaches—Karangasem’s soft-sand white beaches, Lovina’s rugged black sand beaches, the ubiquitous yellow-sand beaches lining the coast of Seminyak—while emphasizing the earthly element of the land in contrast to the still vastness of the open ocean and the celestial infinity of the deep blue cosmos above.
Far from monotonous, the work’s structural simplicity is undercut by the lingering persistence of figural representation, most notably evident in the prominent jukungs (traditional Balinese fishing vessels) occupying the middle quadrant of the painting. Yet, Srihadi retains his trademark restraint in his depiction of these boats by reducing them to their essence: conveyed as thick bands of white with occasional streaks of orange, vermillion and amber, Srihadi’s figuration evokes the presence these familiar vessels with a great economy of representational means, free of extraneous descriptive detail. The patterned bows of the boat, dotted with specks of black and orange, are reminiscent of the glistening eyes of the naga (serpent-dragon) in the Hindu mythic lore of Bali. Notable for his sparse iconography, Srihadi’s placement of the boats is purposeful rather than incidental, symbolic rather than representational: other than providing a sense of visual lyricism, it acts as a reminder of the presence of man and his relationship with the natural world. Ultimately, Srihadi’s composition and color palette both work to produce an undeniably harmonious effect, while conveying the subtle intensity of his emotions and the deep spirituality in nature.
There is no doubt that many of Srihadi’s later works—the present lot included—were deeply influenced by abstract expressionism, particularly in their iconographic economy and structural simplicity. By reducing the concrete landscape to abstract color planes, Srihadi’s stylistic experimentations with Color Field painting in Bali Beach conjures Mark Rothko’s multiform works; Srihadi’s pronounced and fluid brushstrokes similarly allude to Franz Kline’s signature use of dramatic brushstrokes. Yet, despite its Western analytic sensibilities, the work remains at its core quintessentially Indonesian and specifically Javanese. Drawing from the metaphysical concept of rasa—a non-formalistic embodiment of perception, consciousness and emotion, manifest in the pursuit of an object’s essence—Srihadi privileges his visceral, affective, extrasensory experience of the landscape by reducing the elements of nature to their purest of colors. Appearing as seemingly unreal and phantasmagorical, land, sea and sky are distilled to the elemental essence, existing not as concrete signifiers of space but as spiritual nodes within the symbolic system of rasa.
Bali Beach is one of the most compelling demonstrations of Srihadi’s finesse not simply as an artist, but as a colorist, a modernist, a theoretician and an esotericist. The work bespeaks two parallel impulses on part of the artist: the rationalist impulse for abstraction and simplicity, and the affective impulse for poetry and spirituality. Ultimately, these two impulses are synthesized within Srihadi’s metaphysical yearning for oneness within in the Javanese ethos of rasa; Bali Beach is the culmination of this philosophic meditation, a poignant contemplation on the oneness of man and nature.
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