Monthly Archives: November 2015

“it isn’t all black & white” – Philippe Janssens

"Rites of Passage" Philippe Janssens                            “Rites of Passage” – Philippe Janssens.


Human beings are compelled to make art. This need is a basic urge that is as natural as sex and social interaction. Art gifts us opportunities to be inspired, become more educated and aware, as well as allowing insights into the thoughts and feelings of our fellow man. Most of us have experienced the creative and personally enriching potential of art, however often we are not fully aware of all of the ways that art can benefit our lives.

Art offers unique therapeutic benefits to both the practitioner and the observer, and while people may not find relief in talking about their traumatic experiences they often are able to communicate aspects of their ordeal through artistic expression. For some, such as expat Bali resident Philippe Janssens, art is a multidimensional experience, which has become an essential way of life.

“I can never forget the first time I saw art, the famous rock paintings in the Lascaux Caves in South Western France,” Philippe says. “I was just a young boy, yet the prehistoric images communicated with my inner core.” Born in Belgium in 1946, Philippe was raised in a creative, yet unsettled home environment. “I grew up around music, my mother was a gypsy who loved singing and playing musical instruments. From an early age I had a fascination with music and drawing, and I also began to paint.”


Aged 16 Philippe left Europe for America, living first in the Bronx, New York City, finding work wherever he could. Later he settled in Oakland California. “Initially living in the States, learning a new culture and language was very challenging – I had trouble fitting in.” He began working with a master flamenco guitar maker, a difficult man, yet with very high standards. “I eventually understood that in order to achieve excellent sound I had to create perfect instruments. You must pour your heart, soul and emotions into the process.”

During his early 20’s Philippe was enlisted in the US Army and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. After 7 months he returned home with head injuries – the experience, he admits, has had a major impact upon his life. Philippe’s recovery is an on going process and his painting has evolved into a vital mode of self-healing. In 1995 Philippe first visited Bali after spending 2 years in the Philippines. He worked as a jewellery designer for a few years before returning to California for a year, while developing a successful jewellery business, his designs being produced by Balinese silversmiths that he would sell at markets and fairs in California. In 1998 he returned to live permanently in Bali and began teaching local silversmiths Mokume Game – a Japanese metalworking procedure of folding and layering different metals together, the end result being jewellery with distinctive decorative patterns. “I felt fulfilled through teaching and sharing my designs as I was contributing to the development of the art form here in Bali.”

Ten years ago Philippe met his Balinese wife to be at a temple ceremony in Kintamani, they purchased some land and built a small house near the river in Sukawati, and since then Sarini has been a strong and grounding influence in his life. Together they sponsor a teenage girl from a poor family. “She has become just like my daughter, and brings lots of love into my life,” he says. “During all my travels I have always been searching for a place where I felt comfortable. Here in Bali I feel more at home than anywhere else that I have lived.”


Philippe met many Balinese painters and became inspired by one who worked outside of the traditional conventions, and together they formed a small art collective along with other local artists. Until today he continues making musical instruments, building his own special designs – hybrids of traditional wooden instruments – and both local and foreign music connoisseurs sought out his expertise. Yet Philippe must scrutinize each person before he consents to the task. “I love to make instruments for people who, above all, are passionate about their music. I will not make them for everyone.”

For the past year Philippe has been preparing a body of paintings for exhibiting in 2015.  In September he showcased 20 works in Ubud for his ‘Black & White Exhibition’ at the Kupu Kupu Art Space. Having painted since he can remember Philippe has explored numerous styles and techniques and exhibited numerous times. Dynamic colors characterized his recent expressionistic works, for this exhibition however, he reduced his palette down to the core, communicating via black, white and grey.

Philippe’s works are minimal in structure and feature flowing black lines that contrast with planes of colour, and combine to create eye catching, suggestive shapes. Drawing on abstract and surreal imagery his spontaneous and intuitive depictions are expressive feelings from his inner world. Mysterious organic and mechanical forms complete with facial features, distorted limbs and torsos come to life expressing an array of emotions. The opposition of black against white creates powerful visual tension, while his use of grey often adds a calming sensation. His arrangements of positive and negative shapes grant his compositions harmony and balance. Philippe has no wish to create pretty pictures, and some of this imagery is not be for the faint hearted. His raw and honest paintings touch on dark, tribal and enigmatic symbols drawn from within the depths of his subconscious mind.

DSCF3666                           “Lembu dan Topeng” – Philippe Janssens

Offering few words of explanation about his work Philippe, on the other hand, is fascinated by his audiences’ imaginative responses. “It’s very satisfying to listen to other people’s interpretations of my work. Art has no singular meaning it’s about sharing. An essential part of modern art is the observer’s participation.” He does, however, have this to say. “Many events in my past come back to haunt me, especially my experience in Vietnam. I confront these issues on canvas, as I have done for many years, believing that both myself, and paintings gradually improve with time. The idea is to place my trauma into the paintings and then it is outside of me. Memories contain energy and I transfer this into my paintings. I am soul mining, and in essence I am setting myself free.”

Philippe’s latest exhibition “It isn’t all Black & White” opened on 22 November and continues through until 6 December 2015, at the Rumah Topeng & Wayang Setiadarma Banjar Tegal Bingin, Mas, Ubud, Bali and features forty works.

DSCF3642                                        “Dogma” – Philippe Janssens

Contact Philippe via Facebook: Philippe Janssens

Words & Images: Richard Horstman

the Value of Balinese Wayang Paintings

"Hanoman and Surya". Ketut Madra. 1972, acrylic on canvas - Photo David irons.             Hanoman & Surya – Ketut Madra 1972  Photo: David Irons


Results of September 2013 Larasati auction of Balinese modern traditional paintings at the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud revealed growing demand for work by the best known Balinese painters.  Notably three masterpieces by renowned deceased artists reached new record prices for their work ranging from IDR 270 – 550 million (USD$ 30 – 61,000). Beginning last year, auctions results indicate a new trend, yet despite the recent record prices art experts believe these Balinese works are still heavily undervalued.

The market for the best Balinese traditional paintings is much smaller than that for the Contemporary Indonesian art and the collectors of Balinese work are generally of a different character. They tend to be art lovers who honor the work’s beauty, cultural significance and the extraordinary workmanship.

The larger Indonesian market for modern and contemporary art has over recent years experienced new lows, mainly due to price manipulation. As buyers’ confidence has sunk, so has the market. During an important 2012 exhibition in Central Java the authenticity of works by modern Indonesian masters came under scrutiny, and as a result, an unprecedented uproar continues in the Indonesian art world. Unsurprisingly, this has had a negative impact on the market, and cast a considerable shadow on the Indonesian fine arts scene.

'Dharmaswami' Ida Bagus Gelgel, 1935, natural pigments on paper, Photo - David irons                                        Darmawangsa –  I.B. Gelgel, 1935

Lets now reflect on the international auction house Sotheby’s and their 40th anniversary, 5-day auction in Hong Kong in early October. “The Last Supper” (2001) by Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, estimated at USD $10.3 million plus, set a new record for a Chinese contemporary artist at auction, selling for USD $23.3 million. The work is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting with contemporary Chinese sociopolitical references. Spirited bidding by Chinese and Asian collectors at this auction enabled Sotheby’s to realize USD $540 million, a record for the Hong Kong branch, in now arguably the most important contemporary Asian art center in the world.

However for these “art enthusiasts” at the Hong Kong auction it’s not about enjoying and collecting, it’s about being number one. It’s also about their nations artists being recognized, like England’s with its art superstar Damien Hirst and Germany’s Gerhad Ricther, as a kind of proxy symbol of national strength on a global stage.

Balinese modern traditional art – especially wayang painting – has been much maligned. Over the years, it has often been dismissed as commercial or folk art made by the common people. Wayang painting began as Balinese temple art, at its best today, it is still devotional art dedicated to the gods and serves the community with moral teachings for those who know the stories it tells. It is very different from the genre art of markets, rice fields, temple festivals and other scenes depicting idealized social reality. The finest practitioners have often been those with the deepest understanding of the stories of Bali’s shadow theater.

"Hanoman and Surya". Gusti Ketut Kobot, circa 1960;s acrylic on canvas. Photo David Irons                       Hanoman & Surya – Gusti Ketut Kobot, circa 1960

While Christian religious art often depicts scenes of heaven or hell, and rarely both in the same composition, the best of Balinese wayang art, almost always has a more dualistic and universal philosophy. Bali’s Hindu-Buddhist paintings often emphasize a cosmic balance: there can be no good without an equal and opposing force. In Balinese wayang art the forces of good and evil often confront each other without resolution.

This is an art with high moral standards that deeply reflects the values of the best of Balinese traditional culture. I think it is also an art that reflects modern culture’s struggle for integrity. And I find myself wondering if Balinese wayang art – at its best – is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued art forms in the world?


Words: Richard Horstman





















One Heart – the Sureal Art Group

Suryani, "Mother & Daughter" Oil on Canvas, Image R. Horstman                                     Mother & Daughter – Suryani


In the media we often hear about the plight of West Papua and its people striving for independence from the Indonesian occupation, its wealth of mineral resources, or deforestation that is threatening indigenous cultures. Modern and contemporary artists from this region, however rarely gain exposure. One Heart, an exhibition by the Sureal Art Group, open at the Karja Art Space in Ubud on 12 November features four artists from different parts of the archipelago, including West Papua, exhibiting side by side.

“The name the “Sureal Art Group” is an amalgamation of letters from each of the artists names,” explains exhibition organizer and charismatic West Papuan artist Ellya Alexander Tebay. “It’s also derived from two words – sure and real – that underline our philosophy. If you wish to make something real – you must be sure.” One Heart features paintings by Balinese artist Gede Suryawan, female painter from East Java Suryani, Editya Lau from Timor along with Tebay.

“One Heart is an perfect theme for this exhibition,” Tebay continues. “It emphasizes the attributes that bind our group together, and the values that make us who we are. Humanity is one big family and we all share experiences, feelings and emotions. We are inseparable and together we embody one love and one heart. Art has a unique power that can unite people. I believe artists have a special gift to share.” The artist’s narratives and themes in the exhibition tell of their identities and values, their passions and concerns, along the power of the imagination – stories that are dear to the artist’s hearts.  “It is our wish to inspire our audience and make them reflect on their own lives and values. I represent the West Papuan people, and I wish to communicate a message for global peace.”

Gede Suryawan. 'Starling in Green" Acrylic on Canvas, Image R. horstman                             Starling in Green – Gede Suryawan

“Social media has been the vital key to the Sureal Art Group,” Tebay adds. “It has enabled us to communicate over time, across vast distances.” Tebay first met Gede Suryawan 1997 in Bali at art school. Then Editya Lau at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) in Depasar in 2001, where Tebay studied art for 6 years, along with Suryawan and Lau. He met Suryani through Facebook, yet his first meeting in person was during the preparations for this exhibition. Renowned Balinese abstract artist Wayan Karja, owner of Karja Art Space, which opened in 2000 as a multi purpose facility available to the public, yet with an emphasis on supporting young artists, has been influential upon these three male artists as an art lecturer and administrator at ISI Denpasar.

Suryawan, (b. Ubud 1983) exhibits four paintings, all featuring animals as the subject, yet with cultural references. In “Starling in Green” he depicts the famous white Bali Starling, Bali’s regional mascot, yet due to its value on the black market has become critically endangered. At a glance his works appear like a mosaic of shapes arranged together, similar to a batik design, pulsating with colour and life. Closer inspection however, reveals his works are a combination of Balinese traditional painting techniques, along with his own modern ideas.

Self taught painter Suryani (b. 1974 Banyuwangi, East Java) became inspired to learn painting in 2007. She divides her compositions into an arrangement of squares and rectangles into which she applies oil and acrylic paints. Each correlating segment contains variations in colour tonality and hues, being either vibrant or restrained. Her themes are feminine, with titles such as “Fall in Love” and “Mother & Daughter”. “Perfect with Sampoerna”, however features a man and woman both enjoying a cigarette, and underlines how for many, smoking is an essential and pleasurable part of life. In the hand of the woman she has attached the front of a Sampoerna cigarette box.

Editya Lau, "Salam" Oil on Canvas, Image R. Horstman                                   Salam – Editya Lau

The paintings of Editya Lau (b. 1979, Kupang, Timor) reveal an artist with strong technical ability and ideas who combines the styles of both realism and abstract expression within his compositions. This combination highlights the faces of the subjects, young girls, however in “Penantian” (Waiting) & “Salam” (Greetings) provides added contrast and visual tension. Lau’s gift is to translate his sensitivity into the eyes of the subjects. This essence then mysteriously reaches out from the canvas and captures our attention – the eyes are the window of the soul. Even though this is only Lau’s second exhibition his works communicate a powerful sense of humanity.

Born in Nabire, West Papua in 1979, Tebay is also an excellent technician and communicator of strong ideas. The sweet potato is the staple food of his people and one of the main subjects in his main subjects in his paintings. The plant and vegetable he renders in realistic imagery that then transforms into colourful surreal, even abstract organic forms that weave and flow through his compositions. Perhaps Tebay’s strongest work, “To Grab the Star”, is designed to inspire his audience, the artist says, encouraging them to dream and think big. He depicts the smiling face of his younger brother, his thoughts appear to flow up and out of his head in colourful abstract verve, while suggesting a strange science fiction like alien form.

Ellya Alexander Tebay, "To Grab the Star", oil on canvas, Image richard Horstman                         To Grab the Star – Ellya Alexander Tebay

In the constantly evolving art landscape of Ubud, the cultural and artistic heartland of Bali, now more than ever artist owned and run creative spaces are making a telling impact. They serve as creative spaces for workshops, discussions and exhibitions, artist in residency programs and internships, even hubs for art management. They are one of the major drivers behind the development of contemporary art. With the closure of one prominent fine art gallery in the area and others being less active, while having agendas that are highly selective, opportunities for most artists to present their work are increasingly difficult.

In the past few years new art spaces have opened in Ubud, Cata Odata and Kupu Kupu being the most active, while the Sika Contemporary Art Gallery and Karja Art Space play important roles. Without the presence of such venues talented, yet unknown artists, such as Tebay and Lau are without the essential platforms to share their ‘voice’ with the greater community, while attracting the media attention they rightly deserve.


“One Heart”

Continues through to 28 November

Karja Art Space

Banjar Penestanan Kaja, Ubud, Bali.

Tel: 0361 977810

Words & Images: RichardHorstman