B. Indonesia, 1938
Signed and dated “jeihan ‘91” on upper left
Signed and inscribed “jeihan” on the reverse
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 cm
Private Collection, Kuala Lumpur
The flat black eyes can be unnerving, and the more one studies it, the more intriguing it gets. If there were one trait in art that is distinctively Jeihan Sukmantoro, it would be the deliberate painting of black on the eyes of his subjects. It is most certainly different if not disconcerting. Perhaps it is what makes the paintings so dramatic and eye-catching.
There were several theories on why the hollow eyes are ever-present in his paintings. One was that Sukmantoro has always been known to be rebellious when it comes to art and that he refused to conform to the conventional ways of painting the eyes. The other theory was that he was hoping to achieve an ethereal effect, something out of this universe. All these theories and speculations were put to rest when the man himself resolved the whodunit behind this trait, saying, “We are all walking in the darkness of mystery, we still don’t know where we’ll go.” So then, the eyes signify the unknown, the darkness and the mystery in human beings
Women are usually this artist’s subjects, mainly because he feels that they are mysterious, inimitable and something that is meant to be admired, though not necessarily understood. His drawings are also flat, likened to the wayang kulit that he was inspired by when he was younger. As in this piece, Sukmantoro normally draws his subject in a relaxed, minimalistic fashion, but they are always in an empty space, to signify the “physical and non-physical reality of things”.
Formerly a student in ITB, Indonesia, he never completed his studies due to his rebellious nature. When he was about 5 years old, he had an accident that left him with a brain injury. He was believed to be dead, but he awakened before he was buried. This experience was believed to play a significant role in his paintings.