- From the conversation between Sudjana Kerton and Endang K. Sobirin, Merdeka Daily, 1 May 1984
A testament to his Indonesian lineage, Planting Rice by Sudjana Kerton is indicative of an artist whose visual expressions are deeply imbued with empathy and patrioticism. Born in Bandung, Indonesia in 1922, Kerton’s adolescnece was largely shaped by his country’s struggle for independence, which spurred within him a longlasting nationalistic spirit. Unlike many other promiment modern Indonesian artists, Kerton actually spent most of his career abroad, spending a combined total of 25 years in France, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States. Widely celebrated for his distinctive portayals of the common people of Indonesia, Kerton lent from a myriad of aesthetic ideologies through his international sojourns, and cultivated an artistic palette like no other. Kerton’s restless paintbrush never ceased from commemorating the hardworking locale of Indonesia, as he often looked inwards to explore various aspects of self identity, heritage and memory.
Completed in 1990, Planting Rice was executed after Kerton’s monumental trip to Mexico in 1963, which reinvented the ways in which the artist illustrated the traditions and customs of Indonesian life forever. Deeply moved by Diego Rivera’s exhuberant, emotional and figurative mural paintings, Kerton became heavily influenced by Rivera’s visual motifs and compositional style, and his expertise was subsequently enriched by a new range of Western painting traditions and forms. At the core of Kerton’s oeuvre is a deep concern for the common people of Indonesia, and this present lot is no exception.
Kerton composes a lyrical celebration of the humble working class, and depicts a female farmer, hunched in concentration as she tends to her crops. Characterised by his geometrical approach to the human figure, Kerton delinates the sturdy legs of the farmer, firmly planted into the ground to provide support for her labor. Her feet disappear into murky shadows as they become immersed into the water that cover the padi fields. The expression on her face is of pure and determined focus – emphasized by her furrowed forehead and eyes fixed on the sprig of seedling she places into the soil with her two fingers.
The deftly drawn lines of brown and yellow produce semi-abstract forms that lean towards the cubist style, as seen in the patterns of the woman’s batik skirt. Set against a contrasting background of verdant greens and greyish blues, Kertan proudly places a spotlight onto the farmer, and honors the human virtue within Javanese traditions. Yet she is not alone in her ardous labor as fellow farmers in background bend down to plant seedlings in the wet field or tend to a water buffaloe in the distance. Other charactors in Kerton’s scene take a moment of rest, while a white duck steps charmingly into the corner of the picture frame. The artist’s keleidescopic palette reveals his embrace of the country’s vibrant landscape, the blocks of color are not blended thoroughly on the canvas, but rather, reveal the expressiveness of Kerton’s brushwork and forms.
The empathy within Kerton’s visual artistry and language unravels itself quietly in this painting, as every brush stroke renders a canvas permeated with a deep cultural understanding and respect for Kertan’s homeland. Unaffected by what surrounds her, the diligent farmer that Kerton paints with admiration is an extension of the artist’s unwavering patriotic sentiment, as he monumentalises those who truly made up the spirit, traditions and identity of Indonesia.
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