Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Artist Sudarso, 89, still paints beautiful Javanese women

Yusuf Susilo Hartono, Contributor, Jakarta

At 89-years-old, Sudarso is one of Indonesia's most senior painters but still enjoys an active studio practice.

His most recognized painting Dik Kedah (Sister Kedah) was owned by Sukarno, Indonesia's first president and an avid art collector.

His latest series includes a portrait of the popular singer, Oppie Andaresta (2003). But although he is famous for his studies of women he has also painted male figures and is adept at still- life, landscape, self-portrait and abstract painting.

His retrospective Sudarso 89 at Duta Fine Art Gallery brings together 45 oil paintings from the collections of some of the country's most noted art lovers -- Jusuf Ronodipuro, Basuki Wiwono, Hong Djien, the late Adam Malik, Kuswadi Kosasih and the late Priyono.

He has often depicted the traditional Javanese woman engaged in rural life. Sudarso's women are barefoot and often seated but rarely idle.

They are busily occupied as wives or mothers -- completing housework, looking after their children, or giving massage with a coin.

They have their hair arranged in a bun, or loose, and wear the fitted Javanese blouse drawn in at the waist with a sash and beautifully detailed batik cloth.

The problem with referencing Sudarso's individual works is that many have lost their original titles. "Dad no longer remembers the titles of his works," said Sudaryono Sudarso, his son, who is also a painter.

Sudarso's paintings of women are usually referred to by the name of the model he painted, such as Kedah, Kustiyah and Tina. He has also used his own granddaughters as models.

The use of light to create tonal contrasts brings to life the rural atmosphere and the sincerity of ordinary working people. His portraits are full of expression -- the eyes shine, the eyebrows are raised, the nose is Javanese (and not too sharp), the lips are without lipstick.

He often sets his subjects against a simple backdrop of trees, the sky and two clouds. Art observer Ipong Purnamasidi says that the background of Sudarso's painting is often "absurd".

Sudarso said that in terms of philosophy and composition he is influenced by the shadow puppet (wayang) plays. The lines of his compositions are generally arched, unlike the straight lines of Affandi's paintings.

Sudarso often painted his rather short models taller than their real heights. Likewise, Javanese leather puppets have long arms although the Javanese are quite small. But the Javanese believe that the long elegant arms make the puppets beautiful, said Sudarso.

When he was a child Sudarso was fond of drawing leather puppets. It was Affandi that encouraged him to take up painting seriously.

Long before the independence of Indonesia, Sudarso sold milk and eggs to survive, the Affandi family were his customers.

One day he arrived at the home of Affandi and paused to watch him paint with a growing fascination. Affandi asked him if he liked painting and gave him some half-used paint tubes so that Sudarso could learn how to paint by himself.

In Sudarso's retrospective is a painting called Affandi (1989). In the corner of the painting he has written, "in memory of my teacher, the one who motivated me in painting."

To paint Affandi he worked from a photograph and his memory. Although the colors and deliberation of Sudarso's lines are not strong, the work is nostalgic.

Perhaps, like many great painters, Sudarso's style has adapted with his age. When he painted Affandi,in 1989, Sudarso, born in Ajibarang, Central Java, was already 75 years old. Many painters, such as Picasso, experienced a dramatic change in style in their later years.

At 85, Sudarso uses a wheelchair and has poor hearing but he is still dedicated to painting. He is easily fatigued and can't work as fast as he used and he is not as accurate in his control of color or brush strokes.

But his spirit is strong and his subjects stand honestly. His 2003 work, Oppie, was begun as far back as 2001 in Yogyakarta, and completed little by little.

Next year a book called The World of Sudarso will be published by Hexart Publishing Jakarta. Written by the senior journalist, Sides Sudiyarto DS, and based on the writing of the late Nasyah Djamin, (a writer and artist), the book will be launched in a year when Sudarso, now blessed with eight children, 35 grandchildren and dozens of great grand children, will celebrate his 90th birthday. The exhibition will be held from July 26 through to Aug. 19, 2003 at Duta Fine Arts Gallery, Jl. Kemang Utara 55A, South Jakarta. Tel. 799.0226.