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  • Mar 16, 2022

Obituary: Srihadi Soedarsono (1931–2022)

A portrait of SRIHADI SOEDARSONO. Image via Twitter.

The Indonesian modernist painter Srihadi Soedarsono died at his home in Bandung on February 26 at the age of 90. Known for his expressionist and gestural abstractions, brightly rendered landscapes, and depictions of classical Javanese and Balinese culture, Soedarsono was a celebrated member of the post-independence avant-garde.

Born in 1931 in Surakarta (Solo), in what was the Dutch East Indies, Soedarsono served in the propaganda department of the resistance movement (Ikatan Pelajar Indonesia) and later the information department of the Indonesia army from 1945 until 1948 while the Netherlands waged a war to reestablish its colony after Japan’s surrender. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he began associating with newly formed Young Indonesian Artists (Seniman Indonesia Muda) groups in Solo and Yogyakarta and studied with leading postcolonial painters Sindu Sudjojono (1913–1986), Affandi (1907–1990), and Hendra Gunawan (1918–1983), and became an active member of the Surakarta Cultural Association in Solo. He began his formal artistic training in 1952 at the University of Indonesia Bandung, which later became the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), where he studied with the Dutch painter Ries Mulder. He designed the logo for the newly established ITB in 1959; it remains the university’s logo to this day. In 1960 he received a scholarship to study at Ohio State University in the United States, where he earned a master’s degree two years later and encountered the artistic currents of the time including abstract expressionism and color-field painting.

Back in Bandung, he became a lecturer at ITB and a civil servant, while also continuing to create highly saturated landscape paintings that often feature iconic sites in Java such as Mount Merapi and the ancient Borobudur temple. He married the artist Sitti Farida in 1964, and the two traveled in Europe and Asia. His works of the 1970s veered toward social realism that captured the rapid development of cities like Jakarta around the time of the 1974 protests against Japanese companies that dominated the Indonesian economy. Yet the overriding theme of his work was spirituality, which he conveyed through his use of color and geometry in his depictions of traditional dances and the Javanese landscape.

Soedarsono remained active throughout his long career. A survey of more than 400 artworks from seven decades, “70-Year Journey of Roso,” was held at the National Gallery of Indonesia in 2016, centered around the artist’s concept of roso as “spiritual transcendence between artistic ideas and feeling and energy.” Not one to retire, in 2020, he displayed nearly 40 new paintings in an exhibition again at the National Gallery, “Man x Universe,” which featured a sketch of Borobudur that he made in 1948 along with a recent painting of the famed Javanese temple. At the time he described the exhibition as: “[H]ow I take note of my journey from childhood until now in my 88 years old age. How the very large rice fields in the past became not that large anymore today.”

He was the recipient of numerous national prizes. In 1971, the Indonesian government awarded him the National Award for Contemporary Art, and the Satalyana Kearya Satya Award for Cultural Achievements of the Republic of Indonesia, in 1989 and 1996. Foreign governments also lauded his achievements, with a cultural award form the Australian government in 1973, a Fulbright grant from the US in 1979, and a Japan Foundation Cultural Grant in 1990.

His works are the in collections of the National Museum of Indonesia; the National Gallery of Indonesia; the State Palace Collection in Jakarta; the United Nations in New York; the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro; the Ohio State University and the Fordham University in the US; and the private Neka Museum in Bali. His works are highly sought after by private collectors as well. In July 2020, his canvas Dalam Meditasi Bedhoyo Ketawang (State of Meditation – Bedhoyo Ketawang) (1998), depicting five Bedhoyo dancers performing, was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for HKD 3.5 million (USD 447,000). He is survived by his wife and three children.