Affandi,  Java’s Famous Painter


Jogjakarta is one of Java’s most important centres of culture. Artists abound.

At A.S.R.I. (Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia)the art school, I was placed in the care of a sweet, shy woman, to be shown through the departments. I liked the sculpture most of all and the woodcarving room where a young English girl was working alongside a youth from the woodcarving town of Jepara. She was a psychiatrist and told me interesting things; he invited me to Jepara, but I was not able to accept. By the time we had finished our tip-toed tour, my lady and l, we had both thawed a little and we talked about painting.

`Expressionism’, she called after me as I descended the steps, `I love expressionism’.

As our friend, Rormon, the becak driver, pedalled me through the town, I could understand why an expressionist painter would like Jogjakarta. It is full of texture, the sights, sounds and smells of humanity. It is like the tangled lines of Affandi’s painting.

Affandi is the Grand Old Man of painting in Indonesia, `Painter Laureate’ some say. And he lives in Jogjakarta. `Do you know Affandi’s house?’ we asked the hotel clerk.

`Yes, a most unusual house’, he said.

Rormon knew it too: ‘It is a house like you have never seen before’.


Affandi’s house is a tree. The roof is a single leaf and the rooms are hidden in its fold; the roof and rooms are supported by two great branched pillars, between which is a tiled area with tables and chairs – a kind of open-air living room.

His gallery too is a natural shape, a stark concrete wall, like the face of an enormous boulder. Inside, there is a great space of tiled floor and plain wall where paintings in a thin irregular line, hang right around the gallery. There were paintings by Affandi himself, by his wife Maryati and daughter Kartika.

Affandi’s huge self-portraits are built of a wild mesh of fine brushstrokes; sometimes these heads are five feet tall. A reclining figure, most beautiful, was a portrait of the artist’s mother; she is dead.

Kartika’s paintings too are expressionistic and lyrical and Maryati works in bright wools – charming, vital pictures.

Affandi was not at home, we would have to wait to hear his explanation of the wonderful house. Maryati came out though, and she was sweet, showing a motherly concern, fussing over my badly sunburned shoulders and touching me gently. And just then, half cooked in a strange land, a little mothering was something I needed.

Affandi was in Bali. He would be back in one week. This gave us a good excuse to stay longer in Jogjakarta.

Quite a lot of time we spent with his daughter, Kartika. She has her own gallery where, as well as paintings, she sells artefacts, many from West Irian, and batik dyed materials to her own design. She is beautiful, warm and womanly. She and I were riding in Rormon’s becak. Another becak driver, passing by, called out to Rormon: ‘Take care of those two antiques.’

I was a little annoyed, but Kartika was delighted. `He was not referring to age’, she said, `he meant that we are beautiful and precious objects’.

From childhood, Kartika has travelled the world with her parents and now she holds exhibitions in Europe. In Java, she is considered something of a liberated woman. She divorced her husband, which is unusual, because she could not tolerate being one of several wives, which is not an unusual situation in a Muslim country.


Affandi is a small man with soft Chinese eyes and a whisp of beard.

`People say I am anti-social’, he said, `but as I grow older, I feel more need to work. I have not so much time left’.

We sat underneath his house drinking coffee. The house is a monument to a moment in his life. `I was sitting under a tree’, he said, `and I thought of how well the tree was protecting me. I made a drawing like this’. He borrowed my sketchbook and drew a simple little shape. `The roof is a leaf, the pillars are trunks.’ He puffed his pipe a little. `You know, if I were as rich as Rockefeller, I’d rebuild the whole of Jogjakarta.’ He puffed a little more and produced the mind shattering thought of an expressionist: `It would be just like a forest’.

Affandi loves Bali. `Everyone there is a little artist’, he said. A large retrospective exhibition of his work was being mounted in the Balinese capital, Denpasar. Affandi was returning there almost immediately. `If you are there, I will show you my Bali’, he said. This gave us a good excuse to go back to Denpasar.

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