Balinese art

Balinese art

Balinese art is art of Hindu-Javanese origin that grew from the work of artisans of the Majapahit Kingdom, with their expansion to Bali in the late 13th century. Since then, Ubud and its neighboring villages have been the center of Balinese art. Ubud and Batuan are known for their paintings, Mas for their woodcarvings, Celuk for gold and silver smiths, and Batubulan for their stone carvings.

Recent history

Prior to 1920s, Balinese traditional paintings were restricted to what is now known as the Kamasan or Wayang style. It is a visual narrative of Hindu-Javanese epics: the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These two-dimensional drawings are traditionally drawn on cloth or bark paper (Ulantaga paper) with natural dyes. The coloring is limited to available natural dyes: red, ochre, black, etc. In addition, the rendering of the figures and ornamentations must follow strictly prescribed rules, since they are mostly produced for religious articles and temple hangings. These paintings are produced collaboratively, and therefore mostly anonymously.

In the 1920s, with the arrival of many western artists, Bali became an artist enclave (as Tahiti was for Paul Gauguin) for avant-garde artists such as Walter Spies (German), Rudolf Bonnet (Dutch), Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur (Belgian), Arie Smit (Dutch) and Donald Friend (Australian) in more recent years. Bali has also attracted world famous anthropologists, from Stutterheim (Dutch) to Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead (American).

On his first visit to Bali in 1930, the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias noted that local paintings served primarily religious or ceremonial functions. They were used as decorative cloths to be hung in temples and important houses, or as calendars to determine children's horoscopes. Yet within a few years, he found the art form had undergone a "liberating revolution." Where they had once been severely restricted by subject (mainly episodes from Hindu mythology) and style, Balinese artists began to produce scenes from rural life. What's more, these painters developed increasing individuality.

This groundbreaking period of creativity reached a peak in the late 1930s. A stream of famous visitors, including Charlie Chaplin and the anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, encouraged the talented locals to create highly original works. During their stay in Bali in mid 1930s, Bateson and Mead collected over 2000 paintings, predominantly from the village of Batuan.

Among western artists, Spies and Bonnet are often credited for the modernization of traditional Balinese paintings. They provided painting media and introduced western painting concepts, such as western perspectives and techniques concerning picture and color composition and human anatomy. More importantly, they acted as agents of change by encouraging individual freedom of expression, and promoted departures from the confining traditional Balinese painting traditions. The result was an explosion of individual expression that lead to the birth of the neo-traditional Balinese painting. The Ubud painters particularly embraced it with courage and enthusiasm. This modernization took the forms of: (1) the shifting of the choice of subject matter from the narration of religious epics to the depiction of daily Bali life and drama; (2) the change of the patron of these artists from the religious temples and royal houses to western tourists/collectors; (3) shifting the picture composition from multiple to single focus. The latter is most evident in the works of Ubud artists.

Despite the adoption of modern western painting traditions by many Balinese and Indonesian painters, the neo-traditional Balinese painting tradition is still thriving and continues by descedents/students of the artists of the pre-war modernist era (1928-1942). The schools of neo-traditional Balinese painting include: Ubud, Batuan, Sanur, Young Artist and Keliki schools of painting.

The Three Villages

Much of the buzz emanated from three villages: Ubud, where Spies settled, Sanur on the southern coast, and Batuan, a traditional hub of musicians, dancers, carvers and painters. The artists painted mostly on paper, though canvas and board were also used. Often, the works featured repetitive clusters of stylized foliage or waves that conveyed a sense of texture, even perspective. Each village evolved a style of its own. Ubud artists made more use of open spaces and emphasized human figures. Sanur paintings often featured erotic scenes and animals, and work from Batuan was less colorful but tended to be busier.

Ubud Painting

Ubud has been the center of art for centuries, with the surrounding royal houses and temples as the main patrons. Prior to the 1920s, traditional wayang style paintings dominated the subject matters, although Jean Couteau (1999) believes that both secular and religious theme paintings have long been co-existing in the form of the expression of the unity of opposites (Rwabhinneda in Balinese belief system).

It was not until the late 1920s that this balance was tilted toward secular art by the arrival of western artists such as Covarubias, Le Mayeur de Mepres, Theo Meier, Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet. The last two artists were often credited as the agents of change that brought Balinese Art to modernity. Their influence culminated with the founding of the Pitamaha Art Guild in 1936, with Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati as one of its founders. Its mission was to preserve the quality of Balinese Art in the rush of tourism to Bali. The board members of Pitamaha met regularly to select paintings submitted by its members, and to conduct exhibitions throughout Indonesia and abroad. Pitamaha was active until the beginning of the second world war in 1942.The subject matters shifted from religious narration to Balinese daily life. Ubud artists who were members to Pitamaha came from Ubud and its surrounding villages; Pengosekan, Peliatan and Tebasaya. Among them were: Ida Bagus Made Kembeng of the village of Tebesaya and his three sons -- Ida Bagus Wiri, Ida Bagus Made and Ida Bagus Belawa; Tjokorda Oka of the royal house of Peliatan; I Dewa Sobrat, I Dewa Meregeg, I Dewa Putu Bedil, I Dewa Dana of Padangtegal; I Gusti Ketut Kobot, I Gusti Made Baret, I Wayan Gedot of Pengosekan; and I Gusti Nyoman Lempad.

The spirit of Pitamaha is well preserved by the descendents of these artists. Contemporary Ubudian artists include I Ketut Budiana, I Nyoman Meja, I Nyoman Kayun, A.A. Gde Anom Sukawati, I Gusti Agung Wiranata, Ida Bagus Sena, and many others.

Batuan Painting

The Batuan school of painting is practiced by brahman artists in the village of Batuan, which is situated ten kilometers to the South of Ubud. The Batuan artisans are gifted dancers, sculptors and painters. Major Batuan artists from the pre-modernist era include I Dewa Njoman Mura (1877-1950) and I Dewa Putu Kebes (1874-1962), who were known as sanging; traditional Wayang-style painters for temples' ceremonial textiles.

The western influence in Batuan did not reach the intensity it had in Ubud. According to Claire Holt, the Batuan paintings were often sultry, crowded representations of either legendary scenes or themes from daily life, but they portrayed above all fearsome nocturnal moments when grotesque spooks, freakish animal monsters, and witches accosted people. This is particularly true for paintings collected by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson during their field studies in Bali in 1936 to 1939. Gradations of black to white ink washes laid over most of the surface, so as to create an atmosphere of darkness and gloom. In the later years, the designs covered the entire space, which often contributed to the crowded nature of these paintings.

Among the early Batuan artists, I Ngendon (1903-1946) was considered the most innovative Batuan School painter. Ngendon was not only a good painter, but a shrewd business man and political activist. He encouraged and mobilized his neighbours and friends to paint for tourist consumption. The major Batuan artists from this period were: I Patera (1900-1935), I Tombos (b. 1917), Ida Bagus Togog (1913-1989), Ida Bagus Made Jatasura (1917-1946), Ida Bagus Ketut Diding (1914-1990), I Made Djata (1920-2001), and Ida Bagus Widja (1912-1992). The spirit of the Pitamaha period is still strong and continues by contemporary Batuan Artists such as I Made Budi, I Wayan Bendi, I Ketut Murtika, and many others.

anur Painting

Unlike Ubud and Batuan which are located in the inland of Bali, Sanur is a beach resort. Sanur was the home of the welknown Belgian artist Le Mayeur de Mepres, who lived with a Balinese wife (Ni Polok) and had a beach house in Sanur beach.

Tourists in 1930s came to Bali on cruise ships docked in Sanur and made side trips to Ubud and neighboring tourist sites. Its prime location provided the Sanur artist with ready-access to Western tourists who frequented the shop of the Neuhaus Brothers who sold balinese souvenirs and tropical fishes. Neuhaus brothers became the major art dealer of Sanur paintings.

The playful atmosphere pervades the Sanur paintings, and are not dictated by the religious iconography (Helena Spanjaard, 2007). It is lighter and airy than those of Batuan and Ubud with sea creatures, erotic scenaries and wild animals drawn in rhythmic patterns; often in an Escher-like manner. Most early works were black and white ink wash on paper, but at the request of Neuhaus, latter works were adorned with light pastel colors. The colors often added by another artist who specialized in coloring the ink-wash drawings.

The Sanur school of painting is the most stylized and decorative among all modern Balinese Art. Major artists from Sanur are I Rundu, Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, I Soekaria, I Poegoeg, I Rudin, and many others.

Young Artist Painting

The development of the Young Artist School of painting is attributed to the Dutch artist Arie Smit, a Dutch soldier who served during the 2nd world war and decided to stay in Bali. In the early 1960s, he came across children in the village of Penestanan near Tjampuhan drawing on the sand. He encouraged these children to paint by providing them with paper and paints.

Their paintings are characterized by "child-like" drawings and bright colors. By 1970s, it attracted around three hundred peasant painters to produce paintings for tourists. In 1983, the National Gallery of Malaysia held a major exhibition on the Young Artist paintings from the collection of Datuk Lim Chong Kit.

Two early examples of the Young Artist School are shown here. The painting by I Wayan Pugur (b. 1945), was executed when he was 13 years old and was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1964, as part of a traveling exhibition in the United States in 1964-1965. This early drawing, executed on paper, exhibits the use of bright colors and a balanced composition. The drawing space is divided into three solid-color areas: dark blue, bright yellow and magenta in between showing the influence of the Wayang painting tradition. The leaves of the large tree with the snakes show the juxtaposition of complementary colors. The faces of the figures were drawn with no details, yet the snakes have eyes and long tongues.

Major artists from the Young Artist School are I Wayan Pugur, I Ketut Soki, [cite web
authorlink=I Ketut Soki
title=Pak Soki. Artist from Penestanan, the 'Village of Young Artists'
publisher=I Ketut Soki
I Ngurah KK, I Nyoman Londo, I Ketut Tagen, and many others.

Keliki Miniature Painting

In the 1970s, miniature paintings emerged from Keliki, a small village north of Ubud, led by a local farmer I Ketut Sana. The sizes range from as small as 2 x 3 inch to as large as 10 x 15 in. I Ketut Sana learnt to paint from I Gusti Nyoman Sudara Lempad from Ubud and from I Rajin from Batuan. He combined the line drawing of Lempad and the details of the Batuan school. Every inch of the space is covered with minute details of Balinese village life and legends drawn in ink and colored with watercolor. The outcome is a marriage between the youthfulness of the Ubud school and the details of the Batuan School. The Keliki artists proud with their patience to paint minute details of every objects meticulously that occupy the drawing space.

Illustrated on the left is a drawing by I Lunga (c. 1995) depicting the story of Rajapala. Rajapala is often referred to as the first Balinese voyeur or “peeping Tom.” According to the story, Rajapala catches sight of a group of celestial nymphs bathing in a pool. He approaches stealthily, and without their knowledge, steals the skirt (kamben) of the prettiest, Sulasih. As her clothing contains magical powers enabling her to fly, the nymph cannot return home. Rajapala offers to marry her. She accepts on the condition that she will return to heaven after the birth of a child. With time, she and Rajapala have a healthy young son. Years pass, and one day, Sulasih accidentally discovers her clothing hidden in the kitchen. Understanding that she has been tricked, she takes leave of her husband and son and goes back to her heavenly abode.

Major artists from the Keliki Artist School are I Ketut Sana, I Wayan Surana, I Lunga, I Wayan Nengah, I Made Ocen, I Made Widi, I Wayan Lanus, Ida Bagus Putra, and many others.


* "Peasant Painters from the Penestanan Ubud Bali - Paintings from the Collection of Datuk Lim Chong Keat", National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur (1983)
* Agus Dermawan, "Bali Bravo - A Lexicon of 200-years Balinese Traditional Painters," Bali Bangkit (2006)
* Anak Agung Djelantik, " Balinese Paintings," Oxford University Press (1990)
* Jean Couteau, "Museum Puri Lukisan Catalog", Bali, Indonesia (1999)
* Joseph Fischer, "Problems and Realities of Modern Balinese Art," in Modern Indonesian Art: Three Generations of Tradition and Change 1945-1990, Joseph Fischer, editor (1990)
* Haks, F., Ubbens J., Vickers, Adrian , Haks, Leo. and Maris, G., "Pre-War Balinese Modernists," Ars et Animatio (1999)
* Helena Spanjaard, " [ Pioneers of Balinese Painting] ", KIT Publishers (2007). For USA and Canada follow this link, " [ Stylus Publishers] "
* Hildred Geertz, "Images of Power: Balinese Paintings Made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead", University of Hawaii Press (1994)
* Kaja McGowan, Adrian Vickers, Soemantri Widagdo, Benedict Anderson, "Ida Bagus Made - the Art of Devotion", ISBN 978-1-60585-983-5
* Klaus D. Höhn, "The Art of Bali: Reflections of Faith: the History of Painting in Batuan", 1834-1994, Pictures Publishers Art Books (1997)
* Moerdowo, "Reflections on Balinese Traditional and Modern Arts," Balai Pustaka (1983)
* Neka, Sutedja and Kam, Garrett, "The Development of Painting in Bali - Selections from the Neka Art Museum," 2nd edition, Museum Neka Dharma Seni Foundation (2000)
* Rhodius, Hans and Darling, John, " Walter Spies and Balinese Art," Terra, Zutphen (1980)
* Ruddick, Abby, "Selected Paintings form the Collection of the Agung Rai Fine Art Gallery," The Agung Rai Fine Art Gallery (1992)
* Taylor, Alison, "Living Traditions in Balinese Painting," The Agung Rai Gallery of Fine Art (1991)

Further reading


External links

* [ Balinese Painting and Woodcarving] - Fine examples of Balinese paintings and woodcarvings
* [ Development of Balinese Art over the past 100 years] - A historic exhibition to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Puri Lukisan Museum, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
* [ Walter Spies Painting] - Paintings from Balinese and European period
* [ Walter Spies] - His Paintings, his House in Bali
* [ Museum Puri Lukisan] - The home of the finest collection of pre-war Balinese paintings and woodcarvings in Bali
* [ Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA)] - The only museum in Bali with an original work of Walter Spies
* [ Neka Museum] - Works of foreign artists who lived in Bali, Arie Smit, I Gusti Njoman Lempad
* [ KIT] - Indonesian works of art at the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
* [ I Gusti Nyoman Lempad on YouTube] - Lawrence and Lorne Blair visit the then 116 year old artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad from Bali. The artist then proceeds to die a conscious death on the day of his choosing. This footage comes from The Ring of Fire series.
* [ Foreign Artists in Bali] - Short biography of foreign artists who worked in Bali, including: W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, C.L Dake, P.A.J. Mooijen, Willem Dooijewaard, Rolland Strasser, John Sten, Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Miguel Covarrubias, Isaac Israel, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Mepres, Theo Meier, Willem and Maria Hofker, Emilio Ambron, Auke Sonnega, Romuldo Locatelli, Lee Man Fong, Antonio Blanco, Arie Smit, Donald Friend
* [ Balinese Painting Blog] Adrian Vickers' Blog on Balinese painting
* [ Crossing Boundaries Exhibition] Bali: A window to the 20th century Indonesian Art - an exhibition organized by Asia Society AustralAsia Center
* [ An article on Balinese Painting by Ni Wayan Murni] A view on Balinese Painting and its history by a native of Bali
* [ Paintings by I Gusti Made Deblog] An article on the Balinese artist: I Gusti Made Deblog

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