A romantic visionary, a zealous citizen, Hendra Gunawan was a man of many titles, but above all, he was an artist. Each painting rendered under Gunawan’s adept brushwork was created with fond affection and spirit. Prismatic and effulgent, Gunawan’s works are infused with his endless optimism and vividly dramatized with expressive figures that populate his opus. A potent combination of artistic ingenuity and an ardent passion for the arts, the Indonesian native’s stunning scenes encapsulate the vibrancy of his homeland and its occupants with spirited detail. Conversation is an early work and a brilliant portrayal of the quixotic from the maestro’s broad canon, monumentalizing the everyday occurrences within the Indonesian community.
Recognized as one of the modern masters of Indonesian art, Gunawan’s acclaimed oeuvre is venerated for its rich narratives articulated in his accessible vocabulary. Conversation is a candid rendition of a bustling village, recreating the raucous conversations with vivacious energy. An animated exchange is seemingly enacted between a seller and his potential buyers, the scene immortalized in a moment of vehement convincing. Gunawan found a distinct charm in the mundane routines of his fellow countrymen, inspiring diverse vignettes rooted in Indonesian culture. The figures are described in his stylized vernacular, their exaggerated features and emotive gestures drawing influences from Javanese wayang puppetry and Western caricatures. The eclectic amalgam of influences from various genres spotlights Gunawan’s versatile range, establishing an entirely original, modern identity representative of the newly independent Indonesia.
One of the most salient and arresting qualities in Gunawan’s works is his proficiency in rendering the human form with evocative color and mesmerizing movement. Strong, sinuous and robust, the man in the foreground is a picture of healthy virility. Golden daubs of paint glisten on his body, conjuring an image of sunlight bouncing off his bronzed skin. Darkened shadows contour his limbs in heavy, emphatic lines of umber and black, accentuating the man’s toned muscularity. The striking contrast between light and dark illustrates Gunawan’s fluency with the three-dimensionality of Western realism, executed in distinctive green undertones found in his earlier works. Carrying a bag of goods, the man presents a price to his listening audience. The crowd responds to his speech with derisive expressions, injecting the entertaining spectacle with comic hilarity. Behind them, another conversation takes place between two women, contributing to the cacophony of noise. Gunawan offers a playful insight into the interactions between social groups in traditional villages, endearing audiences with his engaging narratives. Against the clamor of village life, the artist elevates the banality of daily traditions, transforming it into a whimsical account of Indonesians in their natural milieu.
Presented in the polychromatic resplendence of Gunawan’s palette, the women are attired in bejeweled hues of ruby, emerald and gilded yellow clothes, standing iridescent against the rustic overtones of the painting. Traditional batik patterns adorn the woman’s skirt in arabesque design, luminescent against the lively turquoise-green fabric. Dots of pink and red ornament the apparel, the variegated embroidery attesting to Gunawan’s fastidious attention to detail. Standing behind, her friend is dressed in a similarly intricate top, the elaborate texture reproduced under the maestro’s dexterous brushstrokes. Rather than beatific two-dimensional figures, Gunawan’s women are individualized personalities that capture the lively exuberance of the Indonesian woman. The boisterous man in the foreground is also garbed in his native wear, his multi-patterned cloth of deep turquoise and white enlivened with splashes of fiery red. Trailing behind is a woman dressed in a similar outfit, her ruby earrings in consummate harmony with the bold red background. Standing between the two figures is a man with a fedora, his distinctly Western hat alluding to the diversifying population and rapid onset of modernization across classes within Indonesia. Conversation’s saturated coalescence of contrasting colors and varied attire is a refreshing insight into the different personalities that live in co-existence with each other within a typical Indonesian community.
Painted in Bandung in 1960, the present lot is an extremely rare and early work by that stands as a testament to Hendra Gunawan’s formative and foundational affinity for his native roots. As evident in Conversation, Hendra Gunawan’s chronicles of circadian life in his homeland celebrate the individual identities of his Indonesian peers upon canvas. The maestro’s daring colors, inventive figures and elaborate narratives found a deep resonance with Indonesia’s colorful history, and it was this ardent dedication to his beloved country that established Gunawan as the artist for the people.