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Block Test 2008 (Part 2) September 14, 2008

Posted by Sun Ran in Writings.
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Liu Kang, Seated Model (Figure 2a)
1953, Oil on canvas


Hendra Gunawan Bandung as a Sea of Fire (Figure 2b)
1972, Oil on canvas, 117 x 197.5cm, Collection Ir Ciputra Foundation

(a) Describe the subject matter of these paintings.
In seated model by Liu Kang, the subject matter is a woman wearing a long red skirt and naked from the waist up. She is seated on a black wooden chair, with her right arm resting on the back of the chair, and holding a flower with her left hand.

In Bandung as a Sea of Fire by Hendra Gunwan, the painting is divided into two portions. The foreground and more prominent subject matter are two dead man lying on the ground, covered in blood. In the background, numerous people, some carrying children and big bundles, are running up a hill, seemingly fleeing from the raging fire behind them.

However, the atmosphere of both are drastically different. In Liu Kang’s painting, the woman looks relaxed with her eyes closed. Her hair is combed neatly, and she wears flowers in her hair and earrings. Her surrounding appear calm and peaceful, with trees, flowers and a building. Overall, with the calming and naturalistic colours, the whole painting and the subject matter, the woman, appear calm and composed.

In Hendra Gunawan’s painting however, the people appear shocked and scared. Dark colours and bright reds are used contrastingly, suggesting blood and fire. Overall, the people are aroused and appear nervous, running for their lives and the painting gives a dark atmosphere of life and death and destruction.

(b) Analyse and interpret the artists’ intentions.
Liu Kang is a Singapore pioneer artist. Having been trained and studied in Paris and been under the influence of post-impressionist such as Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, he is also influenced by Chinese Ink Painting. Known for combining Western and Eastern painting techniques, many of his paintings revolve around carefree subject matters such as village life and leisure activities such as ‘Artist and Model’.

Hendra Gunawan, on the other hand, is an Indonesian Artist who has painted political themes and caused controversy and had been jailed. His paintings mostly revolve around darker themes such as death and separation. Compared to Liu Kang’s paintings that depict leisure life and activities, Hendra Gunawan’s paintings are darker and more serious. Seated Model, is another one of Liu Kang’s paintings, perhaps of a Balianse woman, is seated relaxed and casual, holding a flower, and although modeling for the artist, she does not appear to have any deep worries of the moment concerning matters such as life and death. Liu Kang probably only wanted to depict the woman dressed traditionally, seated in her own natural surroundings, appearing carefree and relaxed. He has done a well modeled painting of the woman, having her being the emphasis instead of the background, thus his intention might largely be on doing a proper human figure study.

In ‘Bandung as a Sea of Fire’ by Hendra Gunawan however, the artist does not seem to be concerned about painting realistically nor blending and modeling. He has used warm colours of express blood and fire, suggesting a dangerous and uncomfortable mood for this painting. The fire could well represent threats such as war and conflicts that causes death and destruction among people and villages. They have to flee for their lives. Based on the artist’s background, he might be suggesting the destruction caused by the politics, as well as the hardships suffered by the people.

(c) Discuss the impact the two paintings have on you.
Seated model by Liu Kang gives me a feeling that the traditional way of life is relaxed and happy. It has made me wonder if living in a quiet, natural surrounding is a better way of life than living in the city. It suggests how peace and nature seen in the painting can reflect relaxed people, free from worries and constraints. However, it also reflects that the traditional way of leisure life has disappeared, replaced by the busy city life. The painting impacts and raises awareness of the disappearing surroundings, tradition and culture.

Bandung as a Sea of Fire by Hendra Gunawan depicts the misery of the villagers, living a life of fleeing and anxiety. Certainly, whatever that caused the ‘fire’, be it war and conflict or the government could be helpless against harm and destruction. The painting relfects how destruction can cause death and unhappiness.

While I would have liked to live a relaxed life as depicted in Liu Kang’s painting, I sympathise with the victims in Hendra Gunawan’s painting. It is only through peace that people can be happy and relaxed and enjoy life.