A History of Balinese Painting
Adrian Vickers (2016) Balinese Painting and Sculpture From the Krzysztof Musial Collection. Singapore: TuttleIn the field of painting, the full range of modes of art co-exist in Bali. Works that Balinese usually describe as “classic” stand alongside the modern art identified with the tourist centre of Ubud, as well as daring ventures into Contemporary Art by talented Balinese. Some of these works also served religious purposes, while even many of the very contemporary and ostensibly secular ones display a sensibility rooted in Balinese Hindu-Buddhism. The term “classic” is applied to the painters of the village of Kamasan, in Klungkung regency, and is a way of avoiding the confusion about the use of “traditional” to describe an array of styles. Kamasan art is based on the wayang or shadow theatre, and its form and narratives go back to ancient Java. Although there were many villages in Bali that practiced this wayang style, Kamasan was the most famous, because of its close link to the highest-ranking royal family in Bali, that of Klungkung. The legacy of the works done to adorn this family’s great palace can be seen in the Kerta Ghosa (Hall of Justice) and Bale Kambang (Floating Pavilion) that stand in the remains of the great palace after it was destroyed during the Dutch conquest of 1908. The Kerta Ghosa’s multi-layered depictions of heaven and hell means it is often referred to as Bali’s “Sistine Chapel.” Besides royal works, the painters of Kamasan produced paintings telling the stories of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, for their own and other people’s temples. These works were stored and brought out to adorn pavilions during annual temple ceremonies. They did not function as icons of worship, but rather as beautiful narratives that both inform worshippers about their deities and other powerful forces in the world, and provide ways of connecting the human and the divine. The artists of Kamasan proudly continue to work in their old style, while constantly producing variations on the stories and their modes of representation. The painter I Nyoman Mandra was regarded as the master of the style until his death in 2018. Ni Made Suciarmi was the first of these, and since her work in the 1960s, subsequent generations have became prominent, notably innovative painters Ni Wayan Wally and Mangku Muriati. Muriati is the daughter of Mangku Mura, one of the most prolific and inventive Kamasan artists of the second half of the twentieth century. “Modern” art came to Bali in the late 1920s. Already artists in North Bali, such as the brilliantly creative I Ketut Gede, were experimenting with daring new ways of showing the world around them and the stories of the divine. I Ketut Gede worked in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and some of the best documentation of his work came from commissions by the Eurasian linguist H.N. van der Tuuk, who asked Ketut for illustrations of figures from various legends. Van der Tuuk’s collection, now in Leiden University Library, shows how rich the variations on tradition were throughout the whole island. While many traditional artists remain anonymous, Van der Tuuk’s documentation provides us with a few more names, such as Ida Telaga of Sanur. These were contemporaries for famous Kamasan artists such as Kaki Rambug. The impetus for change in Balinese art came from access to new materials, notably European paper and paints. Kamasan artists had been given paper for extended illustrations of ancient literature from at least the early nineteenth century. Van der Tuuk’s commission spread the use of these new media. In the twentieth century, the small but growing presence of European artists on the island combined with new opportunities for tourist patronage. Pockets of experimentation sprang up throughout the island, for example in the village of Rangkan, in Gianyar. The artist who first captured outside attention as the creator of a Central Balinese modern style was Ida Bagus Mukuh from a priestly family in Tampaksiring. His depictions of temple festivals and other aspects of spiritual life influenced a group of artists in the Ubud-Peliatan area between 1928 and 1930, and these artists, especially I.B.Mukuh’s cousin, Ida Bagus Kembeng, produced what is now seen as the first truly modern style. Western artists living in Bali at the time helped to promote the art to the newly-arrived tourists, and provided insights into the techniques of the West. One of these artists, Dutch Rudolf Bonnet, played a key role in helping set up the Museum Bali in Denpasar, then organising exhibitions of Balinese art in Java, and most importantly setting up an artists’ association for painters and sculptors, the famous but short-lived Pita Maha organisation. Much credit for these activities is given to Bonnet’s more famous and charismatic friend, German painter Walter Spies, who was influential, but less engaged that Bonnet. Bonnet worked closely with Balinese artists such as Anak Agung Gede Soberat and I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, both of Ubud, who began to extend the range and form of art. Soberat if famous for creating what is now known as the “Ubud style”, with his more naturalistic figures, although he began as a wayang artist. Lempad’s works were very different, pure line that again developed from wayang art, and explored higher dimensions of Hindu-Buddhist philosophy. Ida Bagus Made “Poleng”, son of founding artist Kembeng, continued to work from the 1930s until the 1970s, drawing in family members into the creation of Ubud as a centre. The excitement of new styles, combined with the economic incentives of tourism, led hundreds of Balinese to become involved in art. Some turned painting and drawing into a vocation, others dabbled for a while, and then moved on. Some of the painters were also sculptors, or involved in the other arts, such as puppetry or dance-drama. One of the key centres of art was Batuan, where the radical I Nyoman Ngendon influenced his fellow villagers towards a new style of art that was filled with black-and-white images showing a dark side of the spiritual power of Bali. Batuan also had its practitioners of wayang style who provided a basis for the new developments. Foremost amongst the contemporaries of Ngendon was Ida Bagus Made Togog, who along with Ida Bagus Wija, made the transition to the post-War period. Because Batuan was such a centre of the arts, the famous anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson spent much time there in the late 1930s, building up a huge collection with Batuan works at its heart, but also leaving us with extensive documentation of all the artists of the period. As well as working very closely with Ida Bagus Togog, Bateson and Mead also collected many works by artists such as Ida Bagus Bala and Ida Bagus Jatasura.
'B053 Ritual: for appeasing the demons of the sea and ending a 3-year drought (mecaru melabuh gentuh).', Ida Bagus Made Bala, active 1937 - 1942, 89 works