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The Painter I Was Involved With

By Dyah Kuncorowati


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I didn’t know how it all started. It just happened and when I realized it, I was no longer in a position where people still talked about the weather. I wasn’t a kind of person who’d be glad to visit an art studio in which I knew nobody and converse with any of them in that place about art; the past, present and future! I wasn’t either a kind of person who’d be glad to introduce myself – “Hi, I’m …, I’m interested in your paintings, etc.” – and involve myself in a totally strange environment without someone I knew to talk with. I was an instant one, I only saw the paintings when they already hung in an exhibition room. I didn’t really care how how those artistic colorful sketches were composed. Until one day, my own hands were dirty with paints and I could sit for hours, just watching another hand with a brush dancing on a canvas.


The connection was bad. I couldn’t access the internet as fast as I used to. I was bored, it was when my fingers pressed the keyboard which later appeared on the monitor as “Indonesian painter”. I pressed “enter” and again … I had to wait. There were names, from the most famous to the unknown.


I remember a local painting exhibition I attended – well actually I just came by – with Lisa when we returned from a mall. Lisa wouldn’t stop her motorcycle if she didn’t realize that she took no raincoat when the very first drop of rain touched her fair skin. We tried to find a place to avoid the rain and there, an open building with banners and banquets and small number of people. She stopped there and we got in the room. Framed paintings were hung neatly on the wall with a small piece of paper under each painting which mentioned the title, the painter even the canvas size. Big and small square-shaped canvases spread on the wall and yet Lisa tried to find a nook to sit still and played her fingers on her cell. phone’s buttons. She seemed undisturbed.

“Don’t you wanna see the paintings?” I asked her, which I didn’t have to since she was interested more on clothing than painting.

“What for?” Her eyes kept on her cellular phone.

“Well, you’ve seen clothes all this day, perhaps you need to see something else.”

“Guys! Cute ones, charming … I can’t find one here.”

“That’s why you need to see something else. Perhaps those paintings will wider your view and fill your brain with something new.”

“I wouldn’t get into this place if there weren’t rain!”

“Well, you can just pretend as if you were interested in this exhibition. Just don’t give an impression that we get in here because of rain … although we do.” I almost whisper.

She then looked at me.

“Dear Anis, just look at those paintings yourself okey! I’m never bothered if people think I came here to find a shelter!”

“Hey, relax okey! Sorry! Anyway, why you’re so upset. I just suggested.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean that. You like this kind of thing, don’t you? So, enjoy it. You’ve spent your time to accompany me with my pleasure. Now, it’s your turn to have yours.”

“And, it’s because of rain!”

“Fine, fine, whatever you say. But thank to the rain you are here!”
”Whatever … .”


I then just clicked one among the infamous. Curiosity, killing time, etc. and finally it came out. A group of local painters’ site with dot com and couple of dashes after that as the address. Sophisticated painters, they started to use the internet to make themselves known. An artistic site what they had, black as the background, a moving banner with “Selamat datang! – Welcome!” writing in yellow then names of the painters, some other small details here and there. At least those features could tell people that the site belong to a group of painters. I then clicked the names one by one. There were pictures of their paintings and the stories behind them. Then another name, another picture. This one attracted me most. I loved the colors.


“This one is my mother. She loves brown, and this one is my father, he likes dark colors.”

“As many authoritative figures do.” I said and he smiled.

“Yeah … these two are my brothers. And the one with colorful costume is me.”

“Why did you picture yourself so small and so far away from your family?”

“And on the desert while my family is in the jungle?” I nodded.

“Don’t you wanna try to guess?” He sat, smiling. I shook my head.

“Why? I don’t know.”

He didn’t wanna tell me.

“It’s up to you. What do you think it’s all about, I can’t tell.”

“And … “The Distance”?” I asked.

“That’s the title Dear!”

“Ooo … I know that!” He laughed and left me staring at his painting … wondering.


I then interested to comment on his painting. I wrote to him and I told him that it was brilliant the way he combined the colors. Green on one side, light brown on the other. It was very contrast. He wrote me back and told me that he appreciated my comment. We then regularly wrote to one another and one day, I asked him to comment my poetry, which he did.

Finally our e-mails were not only about his paintings and my poetry but they were also about ourselves, our personal life, hobbies, etc. I found out that we lived in the same small town. We then arranged a meeting, in a photo exhibition. Apparently we both disliked mall or other glamorous places since we were both short in cash.

It was a quite hot day in the month of April. The sun shone very brightly. The streets were full of vehicles and still the paper-boy shouted to offer the rest of the morning papers he had to sell that day. The building I headed was very colorful. There was a huge banner which showed that there was a photo exhibition which involved a bulk of sponsors. It was the opening day so that place was certainly crowded.

In his call the night before, he mentioned a place where we’d meet. It was near a small decorative palm tree and the photo was about a mother in black crying over her dead baby and she was surrounded by four other mourners. They surrounded a small coffin where the dead baby lay. He said that the picture was very gloomy. I certainly didn’t wanna argue about that since his description was clear enough for me. He knew the details of the exhibition because he was a member of the committee.

My heart was pounding fast when I thought I noticed the place he mentioned. Because when I looked around, there was only one small decorative palm tree and the others were decorative plants of other species. I dragged my legs close to that spot. I saw him. A tall, young man with curly hair and brown complexion in black jeans and black shirt. There were white letters on his black shirt and they clearly told the people that he somehow involved with that exhibition. Well, he was not that different from the picture he sent me. Only, he was more  … alive! Of course he was, this one was not a 52-kb computer file but a living man with flesh and bones!

Although I already noticed him, I didn’t go directly to his place. He was talking with another one in the same shirt, commenting on the picture hung in front of them, I thought. I didn’t wanna interrupt them. Besides, how would I greet him in that kind of circumstance. What if he weren’t him but someone else with similar look? He looked at my direction, our eyes met but then I pretended not to notice him instead, I looked at the photo of a bleeding man dragged by the other in a mass of ruins around them. I was there for a while but I had to end that. Just pretended as other visitors, I went to the photo he mentioned. I was there for a while, reading the story below again and again until his friend left that spot to pick up a phone call. Then, he greeted me … at last.

“Mmm … sorry, Miss. You look familiar for me. Are you Anis?” I then looked at him, smiled.


“Hey, Anis right? It’s me, Rudi! Don’t you recognize me?” His tone was more cheerful now.

“Well, … I didn’t wanna greet the wrong person.”

“O, C’mon, don’t say that!” We then shook hands and there how it all started. The ice suddenly melted.

“Well, it’s weird right?” He asked.

“What’s weird?”

“Other people arrange their first meeting in a café, or in a restaurant but we …”

“Well, we’re not other people.’

“Yup, you’re right.”

It was our very first “real” meeting. We spent that day on commenting the photos in that exhibition. From a happy white little girl who won a horse-race championship to a sad old man looked at the ruins which used to be his house in front of him. We regularly met since then. We talked about things, paintings, poetry … . I then had a friend to accompany me to “weird” exhibition – according to Lisa – which we both enjoyed.

“So, you’ve found your partner?” Lisa asked cynically.

“What partner?”

“You know the one to go with you to your “weird” exhibitions?”

“Well, if that’s how you see it, I have.”

“You’re kind of busy lately.” She looked sad.

“You’re always busy yourself. What’s up, Lis?”

“I’m jealous!”

“What? … Why?”

“He takes you away from me. I used to have a friend to spend my time with and now suddenly, this curly painter comes out of nowhere and takes you away.”

“I’m still here!”

“No, you’re not! I know we’re different in hobbies or things but you’re never be this far!”

“What do you mean by far?”

“Should I explain everything to you?”

“No, you’re not.” I wondered what went wrong with Lisa.

“Are you involved with him?” She asked. I couldn’t answer her at once.

“Ehmm, … well, I kind of like him.”

“Kind of? You’re crazy over him. You talk much about him and his paintings again and again!”

“That often?” I was confused.

“See, you don’t get it. He’s trying to possess you. That’s what all men do. Once he gets what he wants from you, he’ll leave you, abandon you. Don’t you understand?”

“He’s not like that, Lis.” I tried to defend him, or … myself?

“Not yet. Look, I already warned you okey. So, don’t blame me when he really throws you away ‘cause I already to told you about it.”

“Lisa, we’re just friends.” I tried to convince her which I wondered to myself why I did that ‘cause it wouldn’t be necessary. She then just left. I tried to be friend with her again which was hard to do since she seemed too upset about my relation with that curly painter.


He was busy with the canvas in front of him and the brush in his right hand. He rented a small room in a boarding-house which he divided into two parts, the other was for his bedroom and another one was for his studio. Those two “rooms” were only separated by a bookshelf and a blue curtain. There was a computer which connected to the internet – he was indeed a sophisticated painter – near the window. A pot of plant was in the other corner and he worked right in the middle of the room. Some of his paintings were hung modestly on his white wall. Well, it was tidy enough for a male’s room. My room was even worse.

I stood in front of “The Distance’, looked at it while he was busy with the painting he was working on. He suddenly stood beside me.

“Still wondering what it’s all about?” I nodded.

“Why am I in a colorful costume?” He asked.

“You love colors ‘cause you work with them.”

“And what about my family, they wear one-colored costumes only?”

“They don’t like colors.”

“And … differences.” He added.

“They don’t like to be with people who have different ideas from theirs. They want everyone agrees with them, if possible, follows them.”

“Everybody?” He nodded.

“Then, how come they’re in colorful jungle and you’re on the desert?”

“They’re prosper but I’m not.” He replied sadly. I looked at him. We then sat on the floor with our backs on the wall. He only had a chair he sometimes used when he was painting.

“Jungle and desert. That’s “The Distance”. Get it?” He asked me, smiling.


“My parents were against my will to become a painter. Who wouldn’t any way. Most parents want their children to be doctors, engineers, bureaucrats or other professions but artists.”

“And you wanted your own way?” He nodded.

“What about your parents?”

“Well, I guess they also want me to be somebody else than a fool poet who craves to die in her own path only to get her works known. But, they don’t say anything about it.”

“Lucky you! They shouted at me almost everyday since my very first day in an art institute. And look at me now, I guess they’re right. I cannot make a living properly with this.”

“You’re giving up?”

“I’m sorry for what I’ve decided, sometimes. But, giving up today is too late. What about you. Are you?”

I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. I hardly kept even as simple as a hope. To keep my spirit alive seemed impossible. Sometimes, I wanted to start all over again. I was just in the wrong place. To live in a country where scientists were valued and appreciated more than the literary scholars, it was hard to rely on one’s life on the thing called art.

“Are you?” He asked again.

Still I couldn’t answer. Then, he sighed and left me there, back to his canvas.

Time elapsed and the seasons changed. The little decorative plant in front of my room was not that little anymore. A small, spoiled she cat I had already had her first kittens. Her three little kittens could be found everywhere in my room, messing everything, tearing papers and sleeping on my bed. Even though the soil under my window was already dry since the rain didn’t fall anymore but it was still the same with Lisa and me. Our “little’ dispute about the painter I used to see, my curiosity of how she was that upset, filled our days. We talked a little, never again we spent the time together.

“Not until you reconsider your relationship with that awful painter!” She exclaimed one day.

I even asked Rudi, himself to see Lisa and asked her what went wrong with our relation, but Rudi failed as I did. As I recalled, I had never been that upset when Lisa was involved with a guy even though if he was the worst guy in the universe – in my version. I only tried to remind her but never got mad at her. Everything I tried to do to fix my relation with Lisa seemed worthless.

“She shouted at me and started to act like a mad girl. You wouldn’t believe to what I saw. I could say nothing. And her brother … isn’t that her brother, the tall guy who wears glasses and has a mole on her right cheek?”


“And … her brother asked me to forget about my intention of talking to her about this matter. He even suggested me to leave her in her recent state of condition until she calms herself down.”

“Very political!”

“Is that his state of condition? That political statement?”

“Well, that’s his nature.”

Although we both failed, I kept trying to contact her, whether or not she picked up my call, I didn’t care anymore.

As the time passed, Rudi could somehow manage to follow painting exhibitions. Although they weren’t his own exhibitions but they opened a gate for him to enter a higher level of his working achievement. I still remembered the opening night of his first exhibition with his four other friends. His face was full of smile. His mouth couldn’t stop saying thank you to everyone who attended that opening night. He was still busy until a couple of weeks after the exhibition.

I kept trying to attend every of his minor exhibition which he held with his other friends. Even though the rain fell heavily, the thunder rolled in the sky, I tried to be there. It might be very sentimental but I wanted to see how a son raised in a family full of doctrines and certain norms paved his own way to success ignoring his parents’ advice about what it took to be a gentleman. A decent work, clean office, big salary or the like. Anything but a “dirty” community where paint-tubes scattered everywhere, anything but uncertain working hour.

He moved on with his ideas which he depicted on his canvases. He might not hold a huge exhibition of his own but it made a difference already. People started to know him, a certain small community started to recognize his works. He sold a little number of them with “decent” price.

“It always begins with a small first step.” He said to me one day.

He always told me about his exhibitions but one. The one secret he kept which messed the whole thing. It wasn’t only him who did that ‘cause I did the same and everything seemed to crumble down.

I applied to participate in a poetry-reading which was usually attended by new poets. I always had not enough courage to do so. It was easier for me write even the most difficult explanation than to talk even the simplest matter in front of a group of people. I braced myself to follow that event. I had to follow a series of awful interviews with some senior poets. I did that all by myself, nor Rudi or Lisa knew that I applied. I wanted to surprise everyone by giving them an invitation to attend my performance, if I was ever accepted.

Finally the result came out. I’d be performing in the 5th turn. I couldn’t believe myself that I had gone that far. There was no turning back. I had to move on. I gave some friends invitations to attend my first performance which could also be the last. When I got to Rudi’s he wasn’t there so I slipped the invitation under his door. The guy next door told me that Rudi had been busy these days, so he was rarely home. Well, I was busy myself.

And that night came. I still hadn’t heard anything from Rudi. I believed that he’d be there soon. But it was all gone when my feet started to step on the small path headed to the circle in the middle of the circling audience. It was an “open stage”. The candles were lit on the two sides of the path and circling the central circle. The torches were put here and there. Electricity was unnecessary since it was just a small gathering so the torches and candles were enough to light the night. Besides, the sky was clear with the full moon spreading its soft light which seemed so cynical to me, that night. Still, I couldn’t find Rudi among the audience. Lisa was there but not him. It was the time when my heart sunk low.

I had fought my own fear to read my work in front of a group of critical audience, yet he was nowhere to find. I couldn’t concentrate on that event anymore. But, somehow, my burden disappeared. Disappointment, anger, sadness blended in my heart. I read my poem as fast as I could so that that painstaking moment ended soon. I still couldn’t believe that I did it well when a senior commented that I was emotionally involved with my poem. I just said thanks, knowing I was emotional, indeed.

He didn’t show up until the event ended.

“So, where’s your Mr. Painter?” Lisa asked cynically. I didn’t reply her.

“Now, what Nis? He doesn’t even show up in an important event like this. It’s always me who stands by your side, not him. Can’t you just see that? You still don’t believe me?” She continued.

“I don’t wanna talk about it right now.”

I then left. I didn’t care anymore about with whom Lisa would go home. She didn’t seem to follow me either. Perhaps, she knew that I needed to be on my own that night.

The night got older. Everything seemed so silent around me but not within my mind. There was a war. Whether I had to believe Lisa or not, whether I had to spare Rudi this time or not… . Whether I had to leave it all behind or not. Whether … I couldn’t sleep easily with those kind of thoughts  in my head.

The next morning I tried to see Rudi in his boardinghouse but he wasn’t there.

“Don’t you know that he has an exhibition now?” The guy next door asked me.

“What?” I was confused with what I heard.

“So, you don’t! He has a great opportunity to exhibit a couple of his works with a famous painter in town.”

I said nothing.

“Look, he’s not home for about a week to take care of everything. He stays in Aris’, it’s closer to the gallery there. You know him, don’t you? This time … well, he must be in Arya Gallery, you also know where, so … But, I can take you there if you like.”

“No, thanks, I’ll go there by myself.”

“Are you okey?” I just nodded and left him. So Rudi hadn’t noticed the invitation I left for him. And he didn’t tell me anything about it.

The hot weather I ignored. The crowded streets I refused to notice. The sweat ran through my body I did not care. It was like the nights when I managed to attend his opening nights. I felt like I returned back to the time when everything was simple, but my feeling. I felt like I was going back to the time when we were about to meet for the first time. My heart was pounding fast and I couldn’t wait to see him. I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d say about the missing event.

My paces approached the gallery. It was of course not crowded. I came through the entrance. I even signed the guess book as anybody else although there wasn’t even a soul on the front desk to spread his welcome smile. I expected to see him there. My heart was pounding faster as I entered the room. Participating in a famous artist’s exhibition could be the dream of every new one. But I didn’t know why there wasn’t even a word he said about it. I saw some unfamiliar faces in some spots of the room. And finally I noticed one familiar face whose eyes stared at me.  I approached him. Disappointment, anger, sadness blended in my heart. Perhaps, he felt the same feeling as I did.

I was right in front of him. Not a word from either of us. I wanted to say everything to tell him how upset I was because he didn’t show up in my first performance. But I choked. Not a word from either of us. We just stared at one another in silence. And as soon as I stood in front of him as soon as it was he took my hand and led me out of the room to a garden where some trees grew well, where some flowers blossomed, where the air was fresher, where there was no wall to limit our movement. Still, our mouths sealed. I saw anger in his eyes as he might see the same thing in mine. I couldn’t stand any longer. I couldn’t stand to let us stand there silently like two living poles pitched deeply to the ground beneath us.

“I need to talk to you.” Finally I broke that likely-eternal silence.

“Me too.” A cynical voice came out of his mouth.

“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

“Where were you? I tried to trace you down but you were gone. I went to your house even an hour before the opening night but you disappeared like smoke. Your brother only told me that you attended a poetry-reading night.”

“You didn’t tell me.” I tried to defend myself.

“Can’t you see that it was a very important moment in my life?” His voice rose.

“If only you told me before, I wouldn’t be there. Why didn’t you?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise!” He shouted.

“How would I know that?”

“Every time I called you, you never told me anything about that damn poetry-reading night!”

“It was supposed to be a surprise too.”

“What? I’ve been through this Nis. I tried to take every possible step to follow this exhibition which at first didn’t interest me at all ‘cause I thought I’d have more important thing to do. But, I did that anyway. I’ve spent much of my time, money and energy for this. I’ve been through long interviews and presentations just to be able to hung only two of my damn paintings on that stupid wall. And you think why I did that?”

I didn’t wanna “lose the battle” by just keeping silent.

“You think, you’re the only one with those stuff? I’ve been through those kinds of thing too. You know how small my gut is when I’ve to face people but I did that anyway. I followed a series of painstaking process just to humiliate myself in front of everyone by reading my own stupid poem. Why do you think I did that?”

He didn’t reply at once, but then,

“Cause I want you to know that …?” He didn’t continue.

“What?”My voice got weaker.

“That my works are worthy.”

“So what?” My voice rose again.

“So you know I’m improved since you criticize my works, since you shared your time with me. Nis, I did that for you!”

“Why didn’t you tell me that? I sent you an invitation you know.” He shook his head.

“I haven’t been home for a week now. Sorry!”

“I know. You think why I took every worst possibility of being humiliated by my own action? I wanted you to hear me reading my poetry in front of everyone. The one I wrote for you!”

He looked surprised, as I did when I heard him telling me his reason.

“At least I can still see your paintings today. But you cannot possibly see me doing the same thing in some other time. We didn’t record that.” I continued.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. But it was strange for me to miss my opening night, right?” He still tried to defend himself, which I hated.

“O… yeah. Whatever!”

“You’re right you can still see my paintings today.” He said.

Then, we stood there in silence again. After sometime, he took me by the hand and led me back to the exhibition room. We headed to a place which was rather unexposed and found two paintings there. One of them was quite familiar but the other one was new to me.

“They’re mine.” He said.

I watched the new one closely. A very colorful canvas. Dark blue, purple, white, golden yellow, little red, green, brown and other colors blended on it. Then, his finger pointed to the canvas.

“There’re two people here on the shore, holding hands. Male and female, you and me. This yellow sphere is the moon. If I may describe, there isn’t any other sounds but the waves and … our voice. That if you don’t mind to talk.”

I didn’t say a word about it. His picture and explanation reminded me of Robert Browning’s “Meeting At Night”. It was about two lovers meeting on the beach. Although Browning’s moon was only a half, and Rudi’s was full but I thought both were similar. Then I questioned the title.


“Yup, Together.” I might look quizzical so that he continued.

“You and me, together. Still don’t get it?”

“We are together now.” I replied.

“Well, I think I should’ve drawn a man who proposes a woman with a diamond ring, which I certainly can’t afford now, like a picture which can easily be found in a jewelry store. You’re a poet, you’re good with words. I think that’s clear enough.”

I didn’t know what to say but somehow I felt guilty to him. I should never have followed that embarrassing event and stayed with him instead.

“You’re get it right?” He questioned me again. Then I looked at him.

‘Yeahh … look, I’m sorry about this misunderstanding. I should’ve attended your opening night. I know that everyone dreams about this rare chance.”

“No, No, No… I’m glad to know you weren’t here and reading your poem instead. That’s better for you. My paintings are still here waiting you to see them. They’re patient enough as their painter is.” He smiled.

“Besides… “ He continued,

“I just want you to know that I don’t like to let our relation stay in its recent state of condition.”

I couldn’t keep myself from laughing to hear him quoting Lisa’s brother’s political statement. I then remembered her. I still wondered why Lisa could be that mad at Rudi and me. Then again, the days which had passed were like coming back. The rain which brought Lisa and me to an exhibition, our first met, the early exhibitions … . They had colored our life. If it were a canvas, we had drawn our own pictures on it, a colorful one. Then, together we were. “Then the two hearts beating each to each”©.






December, 2003

Dyah Kuncorowati



© Robert Browning’s “Meeting At Night”



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