The exhibition features four artists from Solo depicting scenes from Central Java life in various styles, showcasing the talent of the region and the continuing legacy of Solo’s cultural icons of the 20th century. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

A Fitting Visual Tribute to Solo’s Forgotten Influence

JANUARY 15, 2015

The exhibition features four artists from Solo depicting scenes from Central Java life in various styles, showcasing the talent of the region and the continuing legacy of Solo’s cultural icons of the 20th century. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The triptych of the beach captures the full sweep and infinity of the ocean. Titled “Nuansa Alam, Irama Ombak Pantai Selatan” (“Nuances of Nature, the Rhythm of the Waves of the South Beach”), the painting by Solo-based artist Arfial Arsad Hakim perhaps reflects his view of nature as the ultimate palette.

Painted in a style evoking the art deco murals of Miami and the nature-oriented paintings of French artist Paul Gauguin, the oil painting shows the subtle gradations of color reflecting the different elements of nature. 

This is most obvious in the use of white and blue hues. The slightest difference of white shades are used to portray the foams of waves and wispy clouds, while the blues vividly portrayed the deep blue sea or a slightly overcast sky.

Arfial’s use of color gradations is more tangible in “Nuansa Alam, Pedesaan di Latar Merapi-Merbabu” or “Nuances of Nature, Village With Merapi-Merbabu in the Background.”

The greens of the fields and the yellows of the rice paddies are more defined, though the work has a dreamlike touch reminiscent of Rene Magritte without the Belgian’s quirky touches.

On the other hand, the bluish-gray peaks of the twin volcanoes in the distance seem to portray their dominant place in the villagers’ psyche and everyday lives.

“[Arfial’s] work shows the influence of Western art that he was taught as an alumnus of the ITB [Bandung Institute of Technology] School of Fine Arts,” said curator Sri Warso Wahono.

“Like other ITB artists, the paintings balance between technical proficiency and an artistic impact with strongly marked characteristics.

“Arfial has an eye for the sweep of nature and its details, whether it be paddies, beaches and villages. His use of soft colors in harmonious composition without resorting to contrasts, defines those details.”

(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Arfial is one of four artists whose works are currently featured in the exhibition “Solo 4 Sekawan” (“4 Friends Solo”), showing at Jakarta’s Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center.

Arfial’s works are showcased alongside those of fellow Solo artists Yarry Yaryatno, Soegeng Toekio M. and Kunara. They pay tribute to the Central Java city of Solo, formally Surakarta, and its formative influence in their art in particular as well as Indonesian art as a whole.

In a catalogue for the exhibition, curator Sri Warso traces Solo’s place in the formation of modern Indonesian art from the founding of the Himpunan Budaya Surakarta (Surakarta Cultural Collective), or HBS, in 1952, whose influence faded under the mismanagement of Dullah, one of its alumni.

“Aside from HBS, the Surakarta Art Academy also influenced the growth of art in the city. Founded by artistic figures like Abas Alibasyah and Yopi Tambayong a.k.a. Remmy Sylado, the Academy has a more systematic syllabus that incorporates more theories, including modern art. The artists in ‘4 Sekawan’ were defined by [HBS and the Surakarta Art Academy’s] artistic legacy.”

One of the works that defines Solo’s place in the arts is the depiction of Javanese life by Soegeng.

Made in the two-dimensional style that epitomizes Javanese painting, the 72-year-old portrays traditional Javanese life, made more poignant by the wayang-like features of his subjects.

“I use temples and wayang beber to evoke the origins of [Indonesian] art, as well as wayang kulit, batik, and religious imagery to highlight this point,” Soegeng noted.

His works portray various aspects of Javanese life, from the spectacle of traditional rituals like “Boyonog Kedaton” and “Gladi Grebeg,” to the heroic “Sang Ajisaka” and the sensitive “Prana Citra.”

“The compelling figures in Soegeng’s paintings are consciously contrasted with their flat, two-dimensional style which are stylized, decorated and slightly caricatured to highlight their timelessness,” Sri Warso said.

“His paintings are also narrative, as they portray scenes from myths, folk stories, legends and religious beliefs.”

A similarly decorative style can be seen in Yarry’s “Menanti.” His style is more contemporary, as the woman is portrayed with sharp lines.

On the other hand, Kunara’s sketchy acrylic works are more pedantic, perhaps in keeping with his standing as an alumnus of the School of Fine Arts at the Semarang Teachers’ College.

His take on Solo’s Fort Vastenburg, with its red-brick walls and vivid green leaves looks as though it is made with crayon, though it is drawn with acrylic.

“As a teacher, [Kunara’s] paintings are made to be accessible to students, in that they can be made to be drawn by them,” Sri Warso said.

“His works are truly slices of life, as they don’t convey a particular artistic message.”