Indonesian artist Chandra Johan showcases his series of urban paintings in the ‘Cityscape’ exhibition at Cemara 6 Gallery in Central Jakarta. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Urban Toils Come to Life With ‘Cityscapes’

JANUARY 04, 2015

The painting’s sparse horizon is a study in contrasts. While the glimpse of skyscrapers seems to hint at cosmopolitan affluence, the dusty canvas may allude to the spiritual void felt by many urban denizens.

Titled “City of Prophet,” the work by the painter Chandra Johan can be seen in the rallies conducted by students of religious schools in the Greater Jakarta area. The fervor with which they follow these gatherings and the reverence they have for their preachers reflect their almost desperate need for spiritual guidance or a figure to look up to.

But the barren acrylic strokes on the canvas can mean the loss of hope as much as the yearning for it. The office buildings in “City of Prophet’s” companion piece, “City of the Office Man,” represent another cornerstone of urban life, namely the office workers who keep major corporations and government offices afloat. The shimmering facade of the buildings indicate their preeminent role in the city, while the clear sky seems to reflect their hopes and dreams for a better future. 

But shadows still undermine the bright depiction. Broad black swathes resembling streets accompany the buildings; they might infer to the toll the darker sides of corporate or urban life, such as stress, traffic and pressures of the job, take on the individual. 

“City of Prophet” and “City of the Office Man” are part of “Cityscapes,” an exhibition of Chandra’s works. Held at Central Jakarta’s Cemara 6 Gallery, the show highlights the East Sumatra native’s constantly evolving artistic vision. 

“[Chandra] evolved with a super realist style that takes on social themes, before taking on a more eclectic, pastiche style that features various artistic expressions through colors,” explains Cemara Gallery’s catalogue of the exhibition. 

“He then adopted a realist, abstract style in 2000, before freeing himself of any one style three years later until today. Three themes of his work over this period covers figurative, stupa and cityscape motifs; this exhibition will focus on the latter and its attributes.”

The green brushstrokes of Chandra’s work “Cityscape 2013” typify his  approach. The striking white buildings on the left hand corner seem to inexorably creep its way into the expanse of green spaces, as urbanization followed in the wake of increasing land and housing prices. 

He also captured two sides of the urban psyche with “City of the Child” and “City of the Warrior.” 

The bright red smudges of the former is reminiscent of a child’s view of the world, as it resembles their doodles. The rectangular structure set in contrast to the red paint is also something out of a child’s imagination, resembling a Lego block as well as a building. 

However, the bright colors can’t cover the darker side of the work. The red smudges can also mean loss of innocence, a fact seen firsthand by Jakarta’s many vagrant children. In contrast, the strong lines and black shades of “The City of the Warrior” make the acrylic strokes stand out on the canvas. 

The dark skyline perhaps refers to the daily grind of survival in the capital’s mean streets, a struggle felt by urban denizens and newcomers alike, whether it be in trying to make ends meet or tackling the traffic in commuting to work.

Chandra’s painting “Highway” can be an apt allusion to the life of suburbanites living in the Greater Jakarta area. The painting evokes Dutch great Piet Mondrian’s work, as its vast expanse of road and sky give it a geometrical, yet infinite impression. 

The multi-hued city on the horizon lend the piece a draw or mystique, and give the viewers a glimpse into its dominant place in the commuters’ psyche. The urban skyline also reminds the audience of its role in the future of its inhabitants, as their fortunes are linked to the city. 

“Highway’s” companion piece “The Bridge” also shares the vast expanse of asphalt and sky. While the bridge in front of the horizon might just facilitate the goals, hopes and dreams of those who cross it, its striking red color also reminds us of the sacrifices we would have to make to fulfill those ambitions.