On a bright afternoon, a man with long beard was seriously staring at his painting that he had just drawn. Then he looked at the painting and with a cut of bamboo (blade of split bamboo, traditionally used to cut umbilical chord) on his right hand as a brush, he continued fixing it. A minute later, a picture of a beautiful-brown Phinisi boat was ready to be adored.
Who was the man? What medium did he use to paint? What makes him different from ordinary painters? Why did the late Affandi, an Indonesian painting maestro dubbed him as an inventor? What did he invent?
He is Zaenal Beta. A celebrated clay painter from Makassar. For painting lovers in Indonesia, his name might be as familiar as shop opera actors for ordinary people or K-pop boyband singers for teenagers. In the world of Indonesian art particularly painting, Zaenal is really well-known. He is one of ‘the cultural heritages’ of Indonesia. As the only clay painter exist, Zaenal’s paintings are hunted by painting-collector not only from Indonesia but also from Europe, US, and many other countries.
“My clay paintings were adored by foreigners” , said the Makassar-born painter.
Of course, his popularity in clay painting arena is not a night-made success. He has undergone a long process and went through a long journey in shapping what he is today.
It was in 1980s, all the story began. When he joined Bachtiar Hafid’s Sanggar Ujung Pandang (Ujung Pandang Art Studio), a celebrated Art Studio at the time, he was elected by Dewan Kesenian Makassar (Makassar Art Council) to represent South Sulawesi in national painting exhibition in Jakarta.
Unfortunately, by the day he went to Jakarta, the canvas that he would use as his painting exhibition fell in muddy road.
“ It was in February, the exhibition was in April. I only had two months left. Pak Baktiar said that the painting that would be on the exhibition must be newest one. I was so frustated”, the father of four said.
But something unique happened when I came home with the muddy canvas. He tried to clean up the mud from the canvas. But after his palm swept the canvas, he saw a lot of pictures on the canvas. House, tree, animal, boat, and many more.
“Then I started realizing that this is that I ‘m seeking for so far, and this is that I’m going to do”, said he.
Days after that, he tried to use clay and draw painting from it.
April 1986, there was an event in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta. Here, he met one of the Indonesian painters, Affandi.
Seing his masterpiece, Affandi called Zaenal and said, “ My next generation is born” to Zaenal.
Not knowing what Affandi’s sentence meant, Zaenal just nodded.
“I was just happy to meet my idol in painting at time. I got spec less”, explained Zaenal, whose real name is Arifin.
Then Affandi continued his sentence, “Zaenal, you have invented something in painting history”.
Getting acknowledged by a legend, made Zaenal started to realize that he had found something. Something that he would be proud of as a painter.
Coming back to Makassar, he tried to focused on what had made Affandi proud of him. He realized that clay painting is his life and passion.
In order to make his painting perfect, he started collecting clay from different regencies in South Sulawesi.
“Each regency has its own texture of land and clay, and including colour”, Zaenal said.
He traveled to Pare-pare, Toraja, Sidrap, and other regency in seeking the ideal clay he wanted in his painting.
All his struggles have paid off, his paintings are appreciated. In 2000, his paintings started to beautify the wall of hotels and offices in Makassar. He has also joined some art and painting exhibitions across Indonesia and overseas. Winning some art and painting competitions in national and international level.
Now, outside of painting in his mini studio in Fort Rotterdam Makassar, he is also sharing his knowledge to those who wanted to be painter. In 2010, he established Indonesian Schetser Makassar, a club that he believes as an embryo for the birth of the next great painters of the country.
A little contribution for his beloved nation. A motherland that he loves much.