picture-editorial-1What do artists represent, and how do they paint, when dealing with the phenomenon of the city in their works? Italian Renaissance artists, who were constructing an optical order, painted the city as they deemed it should be: a space where European men were reinventing reason, and men and women were idealized types. By the end of the 19th century, as art entered a process of deconstruction, the city became a haze, and its men and women, ordinary bourgeois. When one shifts from history to geography and culture, the differences are no less significant: the way Delaunay—focused on cubistic deconstruction—represents the Eiffel Tower cannot be more different from that of Affandi—imbued by the “cosmic” approach of his Indonesian culture. So, aside from the individuality of the artists, their historical, geographic and cultural contexts speak equally in informing artistic encounters with cities.

This renders all the more pertinent, and interesting, an analysis and appreciation of how a talented foreign artist, Paul Husner, has captured, through painting, a certain “truth” of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. As a foreigner, he does not have the same expectations as, let us say, Srihadi—one of Indonesia’s foremost painters—who depicted Jakarta as a city of trash, traffic jams and disorder. Nor does he share the vision of numerous other modern and contemporary Indonesian painters, such as Deddi Eri Supria, who see cities in general, Jakarta in particular, as spaces of depersonalization and oppression. Husner brings a markedly different perspective and approach to his depiction of Jakarta.

Husner’s approach—to unwrap here his secret before analyzing his works—is first and foremost that of a “painter”, that is, someone who reacts and creates on the basis of the “eye”. This “eye” is much more than the sense of sight. It has received and integrated a long process of knowledge. But when it comes to the process of painting, it pushes aside all intellection and will unrelated to the creative process. The painter puts aside the “message” to focus on his creative reaction to the object he is painting—in present circumstances, the city. He does not talk politics—by depicting poverty and slums in the big city. He does not make any environmental statement, by insisting on the trash or the traffic. He speaks instead about himself and the city, that is, how his eyes relate, through brush and color, to what he endeavors to paint. He does not depict it, does not interpret it in line with some preconceived opinion or ideology. He simply looks at what this object does for him and tries to convey that on canvas.

As a highly subjective portraitist of reality, Husner adopts an approach opposite to that of contemporary painting, more obsessed with “social impact”, the construction of criticism, than with form and color. He is an artist who still believes in the peculiar capacity of painting as painting, to talk about the relation between self and world.

Thus, before further talking about his art, a few words must be said about the determinations that have shaped him: his personal and cultural background, and his career to date. Paul Husner is a Swiss-German from Basel: a city on the Rhine at the crossroads of the German and French speaking of Europe; an important center of learning in the Middle Ages before becoming one of the richest cities of Europe in the 19th century, through its chemical and pharmaceutical industries; today the location of the world famous Basel Art fair. One cannot, culturally speaking, find a better environment for the rearing of artistic talent. And Paul Husner was talented. So talented, in fact, that even though he was raised in the spirit of the 1960s and turned for a while into a “flower generation” traveller along the shores of the Mediterranean, he managed to land a scholarship to the “Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten” in the Netherlands, where he later became a teacher, and spent much of his life—while continuing to paint—teaching art to would-be painters.

When one lives in Holland, has already made one’s “Grand Tour”, had a successful career, and married a Dutch woman, an anthropologist at that, what lands does one dream of someday having the pleasure and privilege to paint? Those of Indonesia, of course, where the Dutch have left their mark both on people’s mind and nature’s landscapes. Sometimes by turning them into cities, as they did in Jakarta. But before going to Jakarta, where does one want to go? To one of the few places whose very name evokes the notion of paradise. Bali. The paradise may be gone, but there remain, people say, the smiles of its people, and the pull of a nature magically transformed, its beauty enhanced by human hands. And so Husner went to Bali, where he now spends much of his time with his wife, Tine.