Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Painter Roedyat, a low profile eccentric

Little did the Indonesian public realize that the country had lost one of its finest painters on April 8, 2002, when Roedyat Martadiradja died on that day at the age of 72.

The public was not to blame because, despite his contribution to the treasury of Indonesian paintings, Roedyat did not like publicity about himself and never cared much as to whether his works were publicized by the media whenever he took part in an exhibition -- solo or group.

The most important thing to him as a painter was to produce good paintings that depicted not only the beauty of nature or the striking likeness of his models but also the characteristics and souls of the subjects, thereby creating a sense of love and understanding between his paintings and their viewers.

Even so, he was famous among the people of Bandung and Bali and among art connoisseurs and fellow artists nationwide.

I met Roedyat back in 1958 when he was in his late twenties and I -- a boy, whose hobby was drawing -- took a painting lesson from him. My first impression of the man who was to be my teacher and life-long friend was a mixture of apprehension and respect.

He was dressed in black, wore a thick moustache and had a shoulder-length wavy hair, making him look like an eccentric figure even by artist's standards at that time.

After days of knowing him, however, I found his eccentricity to be amusing and inspiring. When he corrected his students' sketches or paintings, he explained it in a friendly tone and encouraging manner but he would unhesitatingly snap at those who turned a deaf ear to his explanation and instruction.

A self-taught person after a few years attending the secondary school, Roedyat was nevertheless conversant in both Dutch and English and read a great deal of biographies of the world's great masters like Rubens, Rembrandt, Frans Hals as well as renowned impressionist and cubist painters like Van Gogh, Degas, Modigliani, Picasso and Mondrian.

Roedyat never hesitated to share his knowledge with his students so as to deepen their understanding of beauty and values of the fine arts.

Socially, he befriended people from all layers of society, from pedicab drivers and street peddlers to fellow artists and government officials, including Army Col. R.A. Kosasih, then the West Java military commander.

He once said: "Women, to me, are a mystery as well as an endless source of inspiration". A mystery because he often pondered how women, whose physical strength is weaker than men, could, in many occasions, stand firmer and more confident in facing the difficulties of life than men.

A source of inspiration because female figures present a more exquisite form to paint and their graceful postures yield more beauty.

The woman who gave him the most inspiration was, of course, Elly Djohariah, his former painting student whom he married in the early 1960s. They had two sons and five daughters.

With moral support from his wife, Roedyat remained faithful to his calling as an artist who earned his living completely from the sales of his paintings.

There were times that they were flat broke, but their fighting spirit was never broken as evidenced by his success as a renowned painter and in bringing up their children, most of whom are university graduates. -- Oei Eng Goan