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Have you heard the name Istigno Kartodidjojo ?

Raden Istigno Kartodidjojo(1921-1999) occupies a singular place in the history of Indonesian painting—especially in the artist’s combining of traditional art motifs of Java and Bali.

Prajurit Wiratha, painting by Istigno, 108 x 73 cm
Prajurit Wiratha, painting by Istigno, 108 x 73 cm

Until now, the majority of Istigno’s work remained in a private museum inside his home. But now dozens of his paintings are available for accession into private and public collections.

Istigno's painting, Kamasutra, 138 x 90 cm
Istigno’s painting, Kamasutra, 138 x 90 cm

I haven’t found any English language writings on Indonesian artist Raden Istigno Kartodidjojo. This article may be the first.

Istigno's painting, Sri Sadono, 135 x 90 cm
Istigno’s painting, Sri Sadono, 135 x 90 cm

The artist’s son, Nanang, does not want his father’s work to be forgotten or slip into obscurity.  That is why he has created the website featuring Istigno’s amazing paintings here.

Istigno's Singo Barong, 88 x 108 cm
Istigno’s Singo Barong, 88 x 108 cm

When reading what has been written to date about Istigno, one quickly gets into a mix of language.

The artist’s work has been written about by French art critic Pierre Labrousse in his book Autour De La Peinture A Java, published in 2005, in France.

In French—“A la recherche d’un sublime (adiluhung ) javanais,” loosely translates to—”In search of a sublime (adiluhung) Javanese.” Or, in search of a Javanese sublime. The untranslatable Indonesian word “adiluhung” has connotations similar to the word sublime.

Istigno's Bethari Dhurga, 120 x 80 cm
Istigno’s Bethari Dhurga, 120 x 80 cm

Understanding the paintings of this late artist is not easy. It’s also difficult to translate the Javanese language text. But what I’ve been able to discover is, that according to the artist’s testimony, his style and ideas began to emerge during many years of association with artists working in the Bali tradition. He found inspiration by looking at traditional art forms, such as the famous shadow puppets or wayang beber, batik, ornaments and reliefs carvings in temples, and other art forms.

Istigno's Djoko Lodang, 150 x 88 cm
Istigno’s Djoko Lodang, 150 x 88 cm

During his lifetime, Istigno had a passion for recording his life in the brushstrokes of his paintings. He has been quoted as saying, “no day without painting,” which demonstrates his perseverance throughout his life as a painter. He experimented in the 1970s to find a contemporary traditional decorative style for his art.

Istigno's Begawan Ciptaning, 108 x 86 cm
Istigno’s Begawan Ciptaning, 108 x 86 cm

Almost every painting by Istigno contains imaginitive symbols that have philosophical connotations. Such as, in the details on a tree trunk in one painting that shows various pairs of eyes, and the shape of leaves that resemble the puppet characters.

Istigno's GOLGOTA, 156 x 92 cm
Istigno’s GOLGOTA, 156 x 92 cm

Influences of the shadow puppet theater appear in Istigno’s scene of the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary, titled, GOLGOTA, painted in the style of Java. All figures in the painting look like puppet figures. Although the figures imitate puppets, they do not look flattened. Istigno painted the “men-Jawakan ” or, drama of Christ, because he thought the shadow puppets showed human nature. And yet, his painting brings the present day world to mind.

Istagnio managed to work with traditional art forms to create a new national contemporary art for Indonesia.

Istigno only ever had three solo exhibitions— at Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta Gallery, the French Cultural Center (CCF) and Art Center Denpasar Bali, but the artist did not allow his work to be purchased from these exhibits.