Art is a personal experience; its impact on every individual is never the same. When I attend an exhibition, I can be driven by my own innate needs – to engage with fresh visual stimulus to satisfy the hunger and to feed the space between my ears. This wanting can sometimes hinder my ability to be objective and to appreciate an artist’s contribution based on his or her experience and skills.
Visiting exhibitions in Bali can often seem like a repetitious experience. When I attend an opening, my intuitive impulse is that much appears familiar, and like I have seen it before. I observe, and ‘recognize’ much of the work, and other than the social interaction of the evening, I can leave feeling mostly uninspired.
It is therefore refreshing to visit an exhibition that has a quality that lingers, and that beckons you to return. Sign a solo exhibition by hyperrealist Balinese painter Anak Agung Gde Darma Yuda which opened on 15 November at the Agung Rai Museum of Art, (ARMA), is one of those rare shows. The show presents, fifteen oil on canvas works ranging from medium to large and imposing in size. Delving into themes of identity, social politics and duality, these are not a hastily produced bunch of pictures, but rather the outcome of Darma Yuda’s dedication spanning ten years.
The Instagram exhibition-marketing image of his painting 1 $ 2 Rangda was alluring – I was compelled to attend. Arriving late on the evening, I ventured into the open ARMA water garden pavilion, feeling tired after a long day, I lounged on a large wooden sofa next to a friend and we engaged in some light banter, while I gazed out upon Darma Yuda’s offerings, positioned on the wall about eight meters away. In nearly an hour and a half, I didn’t move, I sat and observed, others stopped by and said hello.
The expansive ARMA pavilion allowed me the complete freedom to indulge without sensing any confining limits of the physical space. My experience of observing and feeling the work was unhindered – my receptive abilities fully enhanced. The varying imagery of Indrya 2009, 130 x 180 cm (3 panels), for example, enabled me to traverse between two aesthetic and cerebral worlds, that of the abstract and the hyperreal.
Darma Yuda’s ‘real’ world delivered confronting content, boarding on the violent. The middle panel depicts a red finger poked in an ear with a blue Indonesian 50,000 Rupiah note piercing the lobe. A hand with full spread fingers conceals an older woman’s red-brownish face on the right panel, the gap between the thumb and forefinger exposes an eye — humanity, and life force are projected out. The left panel features a hand cupping a face, palm positioned on the forehead with fingers pointing down. The lips are coloured crimson blood red. Darma Yuda’s selection of colour is a potent aesthetic tool. In Indrya, contrasting skin tones of beige, red, brown and blue create immediate visual tension while emphasizing an eerie duality. The structural features, such as bones, veins and fingernails define the human vehicle. The hyper-detailed skin textures and the wrinkled outer layer that conceal the body reveal the unsympathetic passage of time.
“I’m interested in this realism technique because it is very effective for me to convey my thoughts about things and objects that are very close to my character and daily life,” said Darma Yuda who was born 1977 in Silakarang, Gianyar, and received his art education at the STSI secondary college in Denpasar.
During my observation of Indrya, I find myself oscillating between different mental states. I am sometimes temporarily ‘lost’ in the imagery, my mind quiet in subconscious musing. I might then switch to engage on the conscious level, as I scrutinize the work. Then I go off again, experiencing my thoughts in the deepest levels. When required I find myself flicking into social mode, enjoying light discussion with others. AS the conversation carries on, I might detach myself once again, become introverted and return to the world of art. in experiencing this flurry of emotion, I am reminded of the essential functional value of art — it grants us respite from our busy, sometimes demanding lives, and support us and nourishes in beautiful and unexpected ways.
“I deliberately create technical optical games within my compositions to encourage observation from afar or near,” the artist said.
He explained. “Social issues in life arise all the time. Sometimes, however, we only hear from one point of view, giving rise to reactions that are excessive, deviating from the core of the problem. Sometimes we never find the right solution to a problem. As individuals, we have to filter out what is worth listening to, seeing or talking about. This also functions as self-criticism teaching us to be wise in responding to issues. This is what I address in Indrya.”
Darma Yuda’s close-up exploration of the human hand is for a sound reason. The hand holds the power to administer and execute many acts and expressions of our behaviour. Hands are depicted pulling, punching, concealing, threading, embracing, and revealing acts of both kindness and the adverse, throughout his body of work. Hyperrealism was a popular trend within Indonesian contemporary painting about a decade ago. In Bali one could think of the technical mastery of I Gusti Nengah Sura Ardana from Denpasar and his pictures of elderly folk often marginalized within Balinese society. Darma Yuda is also technically proficient, his themes, however, delve much deeper than Sura Ardana’s.
1 $ 2 Rangda, 2015, is rendered in dark and gloomy tones. Darma Yuda depicts a grey hand clutching a rolled American dollar note, from both the top and bottom of the bill protrudes the head of the wicked witch Rangda from the mythical Balinese Calonarang tale. Adorning the wrist is a prayer bead bracelet, while the hand is positioned akin to how a Balinese Hindu priest would clutch a ceremonial bell. The small finger detached is pointing up and outward; the tip is coloured red. “In taking a stand, when we are faced with many choices, sometimes when we behave in the grey,” said the artist who has been exhibiting extensively in Bali and Java since 1995. “We need to have a strong and firm attitude to achieve our goals; that’s why I rendered the little finger red.”
Adu Jotos 2009 is possibly Darma’s Yuda’s most potent work. Translating as ‘fistfight’, it describes the collision of two fists thrust from opposing directions, colliding with a red rubber ball. While the smaller fist to the left is coloured white, the larger, to the right is black. The background colour is also red, yet of a darker shade helping to emphasize the enormous impact of the two conflicting forces. The negative shapes of the three focal objects set against the background, come through has distinct visual elements of the picture. It is perfectly balanced composition – less is more. It highlights dualism within the human plight, and this Darma Yuda says, “Is a conflict of passion that never ends.”
If you are visiting Ubud, Bali during December Darma Yuda’s Sign is a fascinating, confronting and an eye-catching show, it continues through until 31 December 2019. I returned twice after the opening evening to attempt to satisfy my own curiosity and to see what else I could discover within the paintings and inside myself.
Sign – Anak Agung Gede Darma Yuda
15 November – 31 December 2019
Jalan Raya Pengosekan Ubud, Bali Indonesia
Phone: (62 361) 976 659
Open 9am – 5pm daily.
Words & Images: Richard Horstman
This article was first published in Plural Art Magazine in Singapore December 2019: