Monthly Archives: August 2016

Balinese Kamasan Paintings

Kamasan 1605 wayan Dogol, The charming of Mandara Giri, natural pigment on paper.“The Charming of Mandara Giri” 1605 Natural pigments on paper. Image courtesy of Museum Puri Lukisan

Imagine you are a master Balinese painter, and your King has recently commissioned you to create a work. As you sit down in front of a large cloth stretched upon a wooden frame with a pencil in hand, for a moment you contemplate the composition before beginning to sketch. The year is 1723. What would go through your mind?

Possibly you hear the clash and bangs of metallic instruments of a Balinese ensemble. You visualize the cloth in front as a giant screen, with an audience seated on the opposite side. And you imagine yourself as a dalang – a master puppeteer – manipulating puppets while bringing to life a mighty Hindu religious epic during a wayang kulit shadow theater play.

The roots of the wayang puppet theater, one of the original story telling methods in the Balinese culture may be traced back over 2000 years to the Indian traders who settled in Nusa Antara (Indonesia prior to being known as the Dutch East Indies) bringing with them their culture and Hindu religion. The wayang or classical style of Balinese painting is derived from the imagery that appears in this medium.

Kamasan Painting Image R. Horstman                                                     “The Death of Abismanyu”

The paintings were made on processed bark paper, cotton cloth and wood and were used to decorate temples, pavilions, and the houses of the aristocracy, especially during temple ceremonies and festivals. Originally the work of artisans from the East Javanese Majapahit Empire (13-16th Century), this style of painting expanded into Bali late in the 13th century and from the 16th – 20th centuries, the village of Kamasan, Klungkung, was the center of classical Balinese art, and hence the Kamasan paintings.

The original works were a communal creation, the master artist shaped the composition, sketching in the details and outlines and apprentices added the colors. These works where never signed by an individual and considered as a collective expression of values and gratitude from the village to the Divine. Colors were created from natural materials mixed with water, i.e iron oxide stone for brown, calcium from pig bones for white, ocher oxide clay for yellow, indigo leaves for blue, carbon soot or ink for black. Enamel paint introduce by the Chinese a few hundred years ago were used on wooden panels of pavilions and shrines, or even upon glass.

The highly detailed, sacred narrative Kamasan paintings play an essential role within the Balinese culture functioning as a bridge communicating between two worlds, the material world humans inhabit and the immaterial world of the divine and demonic forces. The artist functions as a medium translating the esoteric and invisible into a comprehendible visual language and bringing greater understandings to the mysteries of life according to scriptures and philosophies. According to Dr Adrian Vickers, Professor of SE Asian Studies at Sydney University, “The key to Kamasan painting’s sense of beauty is the beautiful flow of line and the pure flat figuration.”

"The Turning of Mount Mandara" .Mangku Mura 1973, natural pigments on cloth, Photo -David IronsA Modern Kamasan Painting  “The Turning of Mount Mandara” Mangku Mura 1973       Image courtesy of David Irons.

For foreign audiences the paintings, however, present difficulties in their understanding. Without a concept of the landscape in Balinese paintings it’s about an arrangement of items on a flat surface akin to the shadow puppets against the screen in shadow theater. Unlike Western modern art where paintings generally have one focal point there is no central focal point to read the Kamasan narratives. Most of the paintings have multiple stories that may be read in all areas around the composition.

Looking at painting it is full with visual information to the extent that nothing stands out. Tight, generalized, often repetitive patterning, often of decorative motifs, and combinations of graphic patterns are distributed all across the surface leaving little or no blank areas. Ornamental elements, rocks, flowers motifs and painted borders indicate Indian and Chinese influence from Chinese porcelain and Indian textiles.

“Adherence to established rules about the relative size of parts of figures related to measurements in the human body – in the Balinese perspective each measurement is seen as a human manifestation of elements that exist in the wider cosmos. Correctness of proportions is part of being in tune with the workings of divine forces in the world. Colors are also codified.” says Adrian Vickers in his book Balinese Art Paintings & Drawings of Bali 1800-2010. “Form evokes spirituality.”

DSCF4755                      “Kumbakarna Attacked by Monkeys” Date Unkown. ARMA

The two dimensional Kamasan compositions generally depict three levels, the upper level is the realm of the Gods and the benevolent deities, the middle level occupied by kings and the aristocracy, and the lower third belongs to humans and demonic manifestations. Details in facial features, costumes, body size and skin color indicate specific rank, figure or character type. Darker skin and big bodies are typical of ogres, light skin and finely portioned bodies are Gods and kings. Rules control the depiction of forms; there are 3 or 4 types of eyes, 5 or 6 different postures and headdresses. The position of the hands indicates questions and answers, command and obedience.

The narratives are from the Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts – the Ramayana, Mahabarata, Sutasoma, Tantri, also from Panji – Javanese-Balinese folktales and romances. Astrological, earthquake and birth charts are also depicted. Major mythological themes are rendered in great symmetry, while these paintings contain high moral standards and function to express honorable human virtues to society with the intent to encourage peace and harmony. A beautiful painting communicates balance, aesthetically and metaphorically, and is equated to the artist achieving union with the divine.

Traditional Kamasan painting is not static and keeps evolving as subtle changes have occurred over time as each artist has their own style, composition and use of colour. It is common that new works regularly replace old and damaged works and hence Kamasan painting is an authentic living Balinese tradition.

DSCF4643                                 “Bharata Yudha”  1969  –  Tjokorda Oka Gambira

Where to See Kamasan Paintings in Bali:

Museum Puri Lukisan, Jalan Raya Ubud, Bali

Tele: +62 361 971159

Open Daily 9am – 5 pm.

ARMA Museum, Jalan Raya Pengosekan, Ubud, Bali

Tele: +62 361 975742

Open Daily 9am – 5 pm.

Neka Museum, Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Campuhan, Ubud, Bali

Tele: +62 361 975074

Open Daily 9am – 5 pm

Nyoman Gunarsa Museum of Classical & Modern Art

Jl. Pertigaan Banda No. 1, Takmung, Banjarangkan, Klungkung, Bali.

Tele: +62 366 22256

Open Daily 10 am – 5 pm.

Palalintangan Astrological Chart - Natural Pigments on Cloth                                                      Palalintangan – Astrological Chart

"The Gods of Eight Attacking Garuda," Pan Seken 2                           “The Gods of Eight Attacking Garuda”  – Pan Seken



“Poem of Colors” – ISI Denpasar

20160804_185832                                                 “Biota Laut” 2016 – Ketut Murdana

A formal gathering of members of Balinese royal families, officials and teachers from Bali’s art education institutions, along with the Bali art community at the Neka Museum, Ubud 26 July celebrated the exhibition opening of “Poem of Colors”.   As a part of the Fine Art Program of the Faculty of Visual Art and Design of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) Denpasar the exhibition presents the work of thirty ISI teachers, past and present.

A college of the visual arts organized by the Ministry of National Education, ISI was established in 2003 and is an integration of the Indonesian Arts College (STSI) Denpasar and the Study Program of Art and Design (PSSRD) of the Udayana University of Denpasar. The Udayana University was established 1962 after an initial period as part of Airlangga University, the first university in Provincial Bali in 1958.

The exhibition of works by teachers from ISI Denpasar has been an ongoing event staged regularly during the past 3 decades. As Bali’s largest and foremost art institution the teachers and administrators of ISI Denpasar have helped shape the direction and development of Balinese contemporary art, along with the practitioners of Balinese traditional art.

20160804_101812                                                “Kala Baruna” 2016 – Tjokorda Udiana

Tjokorda Udiana works in the ISI Sculpture Department and has for many years been experimenting with paper to create a substrate which is an alternative to wood for craving. Out of his concerns for the environment, and the enormous amount of forest timber that each year is carved by traditional sculptors and utilized in making furniture in Bali, he has been driven to seek out a viable alternative. “Kala Baruna”, made from recycled paper and glues, and beautifully decorated with acrylic paints, takes the form of a monstrous four armed demon often depicted in Ogoh-ogohs and paraded during the end of the Balinese calendar year Nyepi festivities.

One of three female exhibiting, Sri Supriyatini presents “Menembus Batas” 2016 a beautiful mixed media work of depth and imagination. “My work is an interpretation of woman’s struggles to realize their dreams while living within a patriarchal cultural environment full of challenges,” she said. “These struggles are not only in the domestic arena alone, women also need to work hard to gain recognition for their other accomplishments as well.”

20160804_185646                                           “Menembus Batas” 2015 – Sri Supriyantini

“Menembus Batas” is a wooden partition decorated on both sides with narrative script and images to communicate Sri Supriyatini’s story in which a swan plays the leading role. Rich in cultural symboligy and aesthetic warmth the work is one of the highlights of the exhibition.

A lecturer at ISI Denpasar since 2000 Wayan ‘Suklu’ Sujana is a gifted artist whose name is well known within the Indonesian contemporary art circles. His commitment to the development of Balinese contemporary art extends beyond ISI to his home in Klungkung where he has founded Batu Belah Art Space. ‘Suklu’ presents two paintings that reveal his mastery of figurative studies. His figures, rendered in black acrylic and tint, are layered upon each other to create beguiling abstract forms. He includes masks within his compositions to add an extra imaginative element, while his use of negative spaces within the canvas become powerful visual elements as well. Paramount to Suklu’s creative journey is the need to strive for innovation and new artistic territory within his concepts, media exploration and inter disciplinary collaborative projects.

20160804_185049             “Istrahat Membicarakan Waktu Yang Lapuk” 2016 – Wayan ‘Suklu’ Sujana

Vice chairman of “Poems of Colors” organizing committee Dr. Wayan ‘Kun’ Adnyana exhibits a large and striking ink and acrylic composition “In Blossom”(190 x 290cm). Reflecting on Balinese religious rituals of both festivity and confrontation where participants often go into trance, the painting is a celebration of life, characterized by explosions of color, figures randomly dancing about in dynamic motion and written text the artist utilizes as a form of poetry and prayer.

Wayan Karja is well known for his contributions to the development of Balinese art as a teacher, art administrator and painter. Born in Penestanan in 1965 into a family of painters Karja received a wealth of local and international art education, studying in Switzerland, and Florida, USA, while locally at the School of Fine Arts, Denpasar, Udayana University in Denpasar. From 2002-04 he was head of the Fine Arts Dept., Indonesian College of the Arts (STSI), Denpasar and from 2004-08 as the Dean of the Visual Arts Department at ISI.

FullSizeRender(1)                                         “In Blossom” 2016 – Wayan ‘Kun’ Adnyana

Through his exposure to western abstract art in the international museums he visited while traveling in Europe and the USA he was inspired to approach Balinese abstract art with a fresh intellectual approach. “Cosmic Energy” 2016 is an excellent, pulsating example of Karja’s ability to create his characteristic abstract compositions that are contrasts between the landscape and the cosmos, while being both meditative and mysterious.

An unusual and distinctive composition is “Ibu Semesta” (universal mother) by Made Bendi (b. 1961 Denpasar). Careful attention is placed in flowing rhythmic forms that bring to life a scenario that depicts a mother figure wrapped a colorful costume in an imaginative realm representing both above ground and below. The mother is a potent symbol of authority, fertility and purity. “Linkaran Kehidupan” by A.A Gede Yugus is a flowing abstract composition that’s circular rhythmic motion draws the viewer’s eye from the outside into the inner focal point. Immediately captivating the colorful composition, according to the artist, is inspired by the journey of life and the challenges of finding self fulfillment and satisfaction.

20160804_184737                                                   “Cosmic Energy” 2016  –  Wayan Karja

One of the most imaginative works displayed is “Installation of Time: Viewing History from Present” a mixed media installation by Made Jodog. It features a desk with a book that includes Jodog’s abstract expression upon the printed text, while positioned above the desk is a video screen. “The idea of the installation is that time has been divided by zones, past-present-future,” said Jodog. “Often we view history by going into the past, yet I offer through my work another way of viewing history, by viewing it from present, because we can not go into the past.” A hand flicks backwards through the colorful pages of the book inspiring our sense of curiosity. Our engagement with Jodog’s video is both mysterious and captivating.

Other works of note are “Gadis Bali” by Nyoman Marsa, “Biota Laut” by Ketut Murdana, “Ke Pura” by Made Subrata, “Topeng” – Gusti Ngurah Putra and “Taman Tirta Gangga Karangasem Bali” by Wayan Gunawan. “Poem of Colors” continues through until 26 August 2016 at Ubud’s renown Neka Art Museum.

20160804_101949          “Installation of Time: Viewing History From the Present” 2016  – Made Jodog

20160804_185350                                          “Ibu Semesta” 2016 – Made Bendi Yudha