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Indonesians in Focus: Godod Sutejo

The word empu or grandmaster craftsman in Javanese relates to someone with a deep understanding of life and whose craftsmanship is unquestionable — both in its technical and spiritual aspects. The works of an empu are not only valuable due to their high quality in terms of materials, design and the engineering, but also sacred because of the spiritual experience the empu has to go through to create it.

“That is exactly what I want to experience in painting, working in a similar way to how an empu creates sacred weapons,” Yogyakarta-based artist Godod Sutejo said at his house and workshop in Suryodiningratan recently as Sri Wahyuni writes.

As an artist, Godod says he has reached a phase where he sees painting not just as a work of art but as more importantly the fruit of his spiritual experience.

Apart from relying on technical skills he has developed for years, the painter also takes a spiritual path, praying and selecting the right time to start or finish a painting.

He also frees his mind from seeing, saying or even thinking of evil things, especially while painting.

The created works, he said, should be more than just ordinary paintings suitable for decorating a house, but should also provide “a good aura of energy, peace and comfort”.

“I want my paintings to serve more than just to comfort the collectors’ eyes but also their hearts and souls.”

The graduate of the Indonesian Academy of Fine Arts (ASRI, now the Indonesian Institute of the Arts) in Yogyakarta, also explained why he likes to paint at night, usually from 10 p.m. until dawn, where everyone else in his house is already asleep.

“That way I can fully concentrate on painting as nothing else will disturb me,” Godod said.

Born in Wonigiri, Central Java, the 55-year-old is known for his spacious, huge landscapes with small objects on them.

The landscapes feature the sky, sea, desert, beaches and mountains, all in soft colors. The small objects are depicted in detail and are easy to recognize, ranging from humans to animals.
In Sajian Doa Merapi (Merapi Prayer Offering, 2007), for example, the world’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi, is depicted as a huge landscape with small human figures conducting the Javanese labuan ritual on its slope.

In Layang-layang Demokrasi (Kites of Democracy, 2007), groups humans fly kites in the sky.

“These kinds of paintings have a peaceful, serene, calmness and cool nuances, convincing us further that human beings are very, very small in the hand of God.”

This particular painting style, he said, was the result of his own “spiritual experience” at Yogyakarta’s Samas Beach in Bantul back in 1972.

He saw a line of fishermen walking home from the sea. From a distance they were just small figures on the huge beach, the blue ocean and sky a massive backdrop.

“That was how I started painting small objects on a huge, extending landscape of the nature,” he recalled.

He enrolled in ASRI Yogyakarta upon finishing senior high school but his studies were not smooth after his father stopped sending him money due to financial problems.

Refusing to drop out, Godod supported himself by making wooden painting stands and selling them to his fellow students. He survived, getting his bachelor and undergraduate degrees in 1997 and 1982 respectively

During the course of his study, Godo has been active in both joining and organizing exhibitions. From 1975 to 1990, he was the artist coordinator at Pasar Seni Ancol art market in North Jakarta.

“Yes, I was among the pioneers of the art market,” he said,
recalling the art market’s golden years between 1978 and 1995.
He could not recall how many exhibitions he had taken part in but the one held at Jakarta-based Tembi Cultural House last month was his 13th solo exhibition.

As an artist, Godod is probably one of a kind, especially in terms of setting the price of his own work.

All his paintings are priced by length — at Rp 2,000 (about 21 US cent) per square centimeter.

He said his pricing method would allow buyers to calculate prices on their own, without making him feeling awkward about writing out price tags.

“I’m getting older. There will surely be a time where I just cannot give a price for my own paintings,” he said. “The method will help collectors or buyers to decide what they should pay for my painting.”