Some of the most significant historical developments in Balinese contemporary art find their roots, ironically not on the Island of the Gods, yet in Yogyakarta. During the 1970s, a group of pioneering art students, led by their Balinese teacher Nyoman Gunarsa (1944-2017) at the Academy of Seni Rupa Indonesia (ASRI), set Balinese art upon a new trajectory.
Young and ambitious, the students reinterpreted traditional Balinese iconography into exciting new two and three-dimensional compositions, with the symbolic context retained. As a result, this art captured international attention while being distinguished within the development of world art. Crucial to their innovations was the exposure to different models of art education and the opportunity to live outside of their traditional communities as ‘foreigners’ exposed to other Indonesian cultures in the university city of Yogyakarta. Thus, they were granted new freedoms outside of the rigid village systems to reflect upon their culture and outside different perspectives.
This phenomenon continues, with generations of artists making artistic breakthroughs, realising the evolution of Balinese art. Emerging artists Kadek Didin Jirot and Putu Sastra Wibawa are just two from recent generations to follow suit. Their innovations are defining a new direction in 3-dimensional Balinese contemporary art.
“Traditional Balinese sculpture is very close to me. My father is a woodcarver. Therefore, the tradition has been well-honed since childhood,” said Didin Jirot, who is currently studying fine art at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta, formerly ASRI. “The evolving journey of sculpture, starting from across the various disciplines and experiences, led me to explore a broader understanding of the art form. As a result, I believe the Balinese traditional arts must be increasingly advanced and new understandings determined.”
Didin works with aluminium plates transformed and arranged into vibrant and dynamic compositions that are seemingly organic yet galactic and may have resulted from an explosion of creative energy. “My ideas are derived from subtractive and additive principles, using two-dimensional media that may present all three dimensions of nature. This is achieved through folding, bending and rolling flat plate material, creating dimensions and volume and positive and negative spaces,” said the artist born in Gianyar in 1998.
“I am inspired by and have adopted my concepts from the making of Banten Balinese offerings and the use of traditional hand techniques tetuwesan and jejahitan. Applying these skills abstractly and transforming 2-dimensional objects becomes a series of self-introspective rituals, actualizing my thoughts and feelings, similar to the Balinese Yadnya ceremony. The traditional skills that I have are an advantage. Contemporary art is a bridge for me to dissect the visuals of Balinese art by maintaining existing concepts and presenting them in a different light.”
Sastra Wibawa’s exploration into abstract painting is an unusual yet striking merging of two and three-dimensional elements. His colourful surfaces often resemble landscapes, arid earthy terrains, sometimes otherworldly. The organic forms may be juxtaposed with rigid lines and geometries of formal abstract expression. Combining oil and acrylic paints to highlight the
medium’s varying characteristics. He often floods sections of the canvas with coloured watery brews that, upon drying, create ‘biological life forms’ and fascinating abstract shapes.
Beneath the surface is structures supporting the 3dimensional canvas forms. The appearance is contrasting; stiff folds of canvas project outwards, running the length of the work, along with natural waves, depressions and flowing mountainscapes. In earlier compositions, Sastra Wibawa experimented with multiple raised surfaces appearing akin to architectural awnings.
“My initial ideas began in 2015 when I was making my final art college project. There was saturation of works on canvas only. So, I started experimenting with space and shadows,” stated Putu, who graduated with A Bachelor of Fine Arts from ISI Yogyakarta in 2016. “I was inspired by architecture and overlapping structures that, when exposed to light, form unexpected shadows. In 2018 I returned to these ideas, finalizing the concepts and technical processes.”
While Sastra Wibawa’s paintings are without cultural references, a vital, contemplative, spiritual, and prayer-like element is often reflected in the work’s titles. “My process requires persistence, thoroughness and sensitivity to create repetitive patterns. My art is like an ascetic, sitting for hours, learning patience and serenity,” said Putu, born in Gianyar in 1991. His father, Nyoman Erawan, is a second-generation pioneering contemporary artist who studied at ASRI Yogyakarta and made essential breakthroughs in painting, installation and performance art.
“My creative process begins by visually researching objects around me, not from a representative understanding but the abstract elements. Within my works, I want to offer an understanding that is different from the general abstract art trend,” he told the Jakarta Post. “Instead, abstraction may be derived from a creative process that prioritizes control. I suppress my emotions during the process.”
“I create small objects from leftovers from my paint palette, which are photographed, arranged and repainted onto canvas. I then cut up the canvas and cut aluminum plates according to their size. Next, I build a solid overlapping frame on a multiplex board using aluminum pipe and plate bolted together, to which I paste the canvas pieces. The overlapping and warped effects upon the surface create different shadows according to the lighting.”
“Observing Bali from the outside is the best way to be able to see it up close,” Didin said. A specific culture does not bind the Yogya art world. Here art is more unrestrained and has given me many new perspectives.” “Yogyakarta is a vibrant creative city, with many different artists from around the country and abroad. It is like an art lab,” Sastra Wibawa said. Didin Djirot and Satra Wibawa regularly exhibit in Yogyakarta and Jakarta and periodically in Bali. They represent a significant step in the evolution of Balinese contemporary art.
This article was published in the Jakarta Post 8/10/2021
Words: Richard Horstman
Images: Courtesy of the artists