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.
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. These painters had 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 modern 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 modern traditional Balinese painting tradition is still thriving and continues by descendants/students of the artists of the pre-war modernist era (1928-1942). The schools of modern traditional Balinese painting include: Ubud, Batuan, Sanur, Young Artist and Keliki schools of painting.[
Modern Traditional Painting
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
- Batuan Painting
- Sanur Painting
- Young Artist Painting
- Keliki Miniature Painting
- Wood Carving
Like the Balinese painting, Balinese wood carving underwent a similar transformation during the 1930s and 1940s. The creative outburst emerged during this transition period is often attributed to western influences. In 2006, an exhibition at the Nusantara Museum, Delft, the Netherlands Leidelmeijer traced the Art Deco influence on Balinese wood carving. Leidelmeijer further conjectured that the Art Deco influence continued well into 1970s.
During the transition years, the Pitamaha Artist Guild was the prime mover not only for Balinese paintings, but also for the development of modern Balinese wood carvings. I Tagelan (1902-1935) produced an elongated carving of a Balinese woman from a long piece of wood that was given by Walter Spies, who originally requested him to produce two statues. This carving is in the collection of the Puri Lukisan Museum in Ubud.
Other masters of Balinese modernist woodcarving were: Ida Bagus Nyana, Tjokot (1886-1971) and Ida Bagus Tilem. Ida Bagus Nyana was known for experimenting with mass in sculpture. When carving human characters, he shortened some parts of the body and lengthened others, thus bringing an eerie, surreal quality to his work. At the same time he didn't overwork the wood and adopted simple, naive themes of daily life. He thus avoided the “baroque” trap, unlike many carvers of his day.
Tjokot gained a reputation for exploiting the expressive quality inherent in the wood. He would go into the forest to look for strangely shaped trunks and branches and, changing them as little as possible, transforming them into gnarled spooks and demonic figures.
Ida Bagus Tilem, the son of Nyana, furthered Nyana and Tjokot's innovations both in his working of the wood and in his choice of themes. Unlike the sculptors from the previous generation, he was daring enough to alter the proportions of the characters depicted in his carving. He allowed the natural deformations in the wood to guide the form of his carving, using gnarled logs well suited for representing twisted human bodies. He saw each deformed log or branch as a medium for expressing human feelings. Instead of depicting myths or scenes of daily life, Tilem took up “abstract” themes with philosophical or psychological content: using distorted pieces of wood that are endowed with strong expressive powers. Ida Bagus Tilem, however, was not only an artist, but also a teacher. He trained dozens of young sculptors from the area around the village of Mas. He taught them how to select wood for its expressive power, and how to establish dialogue between wood and Man that has become the mainstream of today's Balinese woodcarving.
- Museums holding important Balinese painting collection
There are many museums throughout the world holding a significant collection of Balinese paintings.
Europe: In the Netherlands, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam and the Ethnographic Museum in Leiden, Museum Nusantara in Delft have a large number of paintings from the Wayang period (before 1920s) and the pre-War period (1920s - 1950s). Noteably, the Leiden Ethnographic Museum holds the Rudolf Bonnet and Paul Spies collection. In Switzerland, the Ethnographic Museum in Basel holds the pre-War Batuan and Sanur paintings collected by Schlager and the artist Theo Meier.
Asia: In Japan, the Asian Art Museum in Fukuoka holds excellent Balinese collection after the Second World War. The Singapore National Art Museum has significant collection of pre-War and post-War Balinese paintings.
Australia: The National Gallery of Australia in Syney holds a significant collection of Balinese paintings.
Indonesia: the Museum Sana Budaya in Yogyakarta and Museum Bentara Budaya in Jakarta. In Bali, pre-war Balinese drawings are at the holdings of the Bali Museum in Denpasar and Center for Documentation of Balinrsr Culture in Denpasar. In addition, there are four major Museum in Ubud Bali with significant collection: Museum Puri Lukisan, Agung Rai Museum of Art, Neka Museum and Museum Rudana.
America: Duke University Museum in Durham, Museum of Natural History in New York, United Nations in New York