Gunawan had learnt the art of landscape painting from Wahdi Sumanta, a prominent disciple of the landscape master Abdullah Suriosubroto. The piece renders the countryside in sweeping, panoramic form, reminiscent of depictions from the early Mooi Indie movement (‘Beautiful Indies’ in Dutch), yet this introduces a new imaginative reconstruction of his homeland. The artist blends meticulous observation of the country’s grand landscapes and natural history with an even more personal love for it in his painting.
In this scene, young boys ride on buffaloes along a dirt path in the foreground, as hills, fields and mountains unfold beyond them. Unlike many of Gunawan’s other studies where landscapes merely provided the backdrop to human action, man is presented here as a peripheral element rather than as the thematic focus – the boys and buffaloes are quietly set in the lower corner of the canvas - in favor of a broader, inclusive view of nature. The harmony between man and nature was an enduring motif in his work, where his human figures were perfectly and comfortably placed within their environments. On a structural level, the work showcases the artist’s mastery of perspective and distance, where the foreground naturally extends into the distant background in smooth gradations. The trees and flora are drawn as indistinct dots, reflecting scale and space, while the outlines of the mountains are much less defined, shrouded in clouds and fog. The richness of three-dimensional space had been fully impressed onto a two-dimensional canvas, appearing to be representational but still retaining all the lyrical expressiveness of a paintbrush.
This piece features a diverse, softer palette of light blues to earthier greens and browns, all applied with a fluid, continuous brush that seems to mimic the gentle flow of the land and hills. In contrast to his other work, this piece is notable for its moderation of color, given his liberal embrace of deep blue, pink and purple elsewhere in his career. As a result, the entire canvas is tinged with sunlight, reflecting off the ground and leaves and creating a spectrum of shades – for example, the light illuminating upon the treetop on the right renders the leaves in an even more vibrant light green and red. Here, organic blends of colors provide harmony across the work, but because of this the scene also takes on an almost ethereal, misty quality, as if it exists in a different fantastical reality.
Rather than a concern with strict realism, this depiction of nature is infused with Gunawan’s personality and emotion for the country he loved and sacrificed for. Amidst his involvement in Indonesia’s turbulent politics as a member of the People’s Cultural Association, he frequently returned to the theme of Indonesia’s pastoral life in response, memorializing this sense of untouched beauty free from the conflicts of politics and violence.
Landscape with Buffaloes is a treasured, unique masterwork, bearing the trademark brushstrokes and blending so prominent in his other pieces but introducing a refreshing lightness of color and open space, letting the backdrop now become the focus. Gunawan ultimately elevated the everyday to a new visual richness, bringing a vibrant nation and its people to life in his art.
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