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Past Thoughts

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Thoughts on a smoking man

"Kretek" or Man Lighting His Cigarette (2013)

I don't usually endorse smoking. I'm still not, but I must admit my current perception on the act is somewhat more neutral than it was a few years ago but if it makes you feel better, consider that it is perhaps not a cigarette in his mouth but a lollipop. But that's also beside the point, the point is the actual painting. My grandparents' house has loads of painting hung on the seemingly countless warm grey walls because my grandfather had many painter friends for whom he would often curate. So our family would receive paintings as gifts. Or payment? I'm not really sure how those deals used to go about.

There are two paintings in particular that stand out for me, the first is a rather impressionistic picture of a hut in a village in the middle of a forest. The sort where you have to step away a few meters and squint your eyes at it before you can start to make out several familiar shapes that composes the painting. There are people and animals that walk about aimlessly as it would seem. I would stare at the picture for hours because I couldn't talk to anyone in the house whenever our family would visit and for some reason I always discover some new aspect to the painting that I never noticed before or I would gain a different perspective about the story altogether.

The second painting is a portrait probably slightly smaller than an A3 sheet of paper. It is a dark portrait of a man lighting his cigarette, the dominating colours were very warm greens and browns and the light spread from within the man's hands as it barely lit the features on his face. They used to hang it on the left wall of the dining room but recently I noticed that it was no longer there. I thought they decided to move it into my grandmother's study or something so I didn't think much about it but sometimes when we eat together on that small table I'd miss looking at it as we shifted from one conversation to another.

There is a book called "Indonesia Manusia dan Masyarakatnya" that's been displayed on our shelf since I could remember but I never actually took a look inside until a few months ago when I was looking for inspiration for something that had to do with cultural diversity. The book is a compilation of photographs of people from the archipelago. It used to be you could tell which part of the country someone was from just by looking at their face because the facial characteristics of certain regions were so distinct from another, but I guess with the high mobility and everything today it's not so much the case anymore. So the photographs were slightly dated but it made them all the more fascinating. One of the photographs there was of a Karo man who was lighting his cigarette and it reminded me of the painting at my grandparents' house. It's not as dramatic as the Caravaggianesquely lit painting (that's not an actual word but I don't know how else to describe it) but it had the same feeling of intentional seclusion and misanthropy so the photograph drew me just like the painting did. Plus the lines on the man's face deeply fascinated me.

I drew the photograph almost in homage of the painted man and told my mum about this weird fascination I had with the image. Then she told me that the painting in fact hadn't been moved but was actually given to another relative of mine, possibly sold to someone else already. For some reason my stomach sank after she said that, even though there was really no reason for me to be so attached to the stray painting of a strange man lighting his cigarette. Maybe it was the thought that I may never again feel the comfort I would get from seeing his match's light illuminating an otherwise very dark ambiance. Or maybe it was the idea that there was another figure in the house who deliberately seeks seclusion to endulge themselves in a selfish act of sentimental proportion. Whatever it was, it made very little sense. Now I look at the worn face of my man lighting his cigarette and it feels cold. Unlike the painting of the lone man that once graced the dining room.

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