Swoofone: a glimpse into the future of contemporary Balinese art

‘The Book of Infinite Knowledge’ 2020 – Swoofone Mixed media on wood. 120 x 175cm.

‘The Island of the Gods’ is an incomparable sensuous experience. Mysterious and captivating, our perception encounters fascinating visual and non-visible layers. Bali’s thriving artistic landscape increasingly contributes an aesthetically potent and relevant dimension.

One young artist has recently impacted the local art scene, initially honing his ideas within the street art scene. I Wayan Subudi Yadnyana, a.k.a Swoofone, now expresses himself through paintings, video mapping and multi-disciplined collaborations. Identified by his limited palette and design sensibility, he is an emerging artist with a definite and eye-catching style. Swoofone has confirmed his presence within the sphere of Balinese contemporary art.

Bali street art is a hyper-realm of local and universal influences attracting artists from around the globe. Noted and emerging artists’ portfolios must include images made in Bali as digital clip bait, immortalized for the millions on social media and Instagram. Inspired by symbolic aspects of his heritage, Swoofone’s art marked the Denpasar urban landscape in 2015. 

Endless Journey’ 2022 – Swoofone. Acrylic on canvas, 90x60cm.

“My interest in strong visual design drives my artwork,” said Wayan, a graduate in Visual Communication & Design in 2017 at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar, and freelance designer. “I started in urban art while still in college. The streets became my environment to explore, and finally, my place for social connection, hanging out with friends while looking for fun.”

Technical process distinguishes Swoofone’s murals. Layering acrylic paint with brush and roller, aerosol spray paint and hand-made designs upon paper fixed with wheat paste to street walls he was immediately different from his contemporaries. Boiling water with flour and mixing to create a liquid adhesive, wheat paste fastens posters to street walls and its use dates back to the 19th-century in the West. During recent years his imagery has developed with works upon paper, canvas, and board. Exhibiting regularly, his works are highlights of the most inspiring and fresh presentations by emerging artist’s in Bali.

‘The Dancing Butterfly’ 2021 – Mask by Swoofone in collaboration with Photo & videos by @_gungindraa, Stylist by @rikayuniorika, Talent by @kabeljack.

Swoofone came to my attention during the DenPasar 2017 event presented by CushCush Gallery. He created three murals in different traditional markets in Denpasar, each responding to the individual market scenario. His collaboration with a photographer and videographer; however, an exciting photograph and a video art installation immediately captured my imagination. Geometry fused with ornamental designs; cultural symbols in perfect harmony – its cross-discipline distinctions fresh and vibrant. From then on I was a fan.

“Initially, my designs grew from observing the landscape and traditional architecture. I was then attracted to the old European, Japanese and Indian architectural styles. I studied Balinese Hindu mythology and teachings that I wanted to translate,” said Swoofone, who is also a dedicated to helping organize local exhibitions. “The basis of my colour expression is Tri Datu: consisting of red, white and black representing the Balinese cycle of reincarnation. I like the limited colours. I want to explore the potential, and then maybe add other colours later.”

Swoofone designs decorate the ceiling of Wishingwell at Uluwatu.

The Pande clan is a Balinese lineage and the keepers of symbolic knowledge ritually infused into physical objects. They work with ornamental illustrations, Patra – patterns that mirror natures’ intelligent design. Most well-known as the blacksmiths who make the ceremonial kris, the heirloom dagger distinguished by its mystical powers. Organic motifs feature on objects, buildings, and temples that resonates with the harmonics of nature. Patra empowers Swoofone’s designs.   

‘The Book of Knowledge’ 2020, exhibited in ‘Raga Rhythm’ by Wildskids late in 2020 at Titik Dua in Mas, pays homage to Saraswati the Balinese Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art and Learning. “The process of creating such layered works involves a dedicated focus. Working with cardboard cutting individual pieces attached to board he constructs 3-dimensional works of up to 10 layers. A single work of one-meter square may require up to a one-week.” Swoofone’s compositions give the impression of dimensional reliefs. One of the Balinese Classical paintings’ less-identified influences is the narrative reliefs of the 9th- century Central Javanese Buddhists temple the Borobodur.

Streetart design 2021 by Swoofone

The Balinese have their version of the sacred Buddhist mandala – the Nawa Sanga. It a symbolic diagram of the 13th-16th-century Javanese Hindhu Majapahit Kingdom including the directions and the sources of the Balinese Gods, Goddesses, their sacred vehicles, weapons, the colours, numbers, musical tones and other holy information. “Geometric planes structured with precise, symmetrical and balanced object repetition are a visual feature. These geometric planes also add to the illusion of space within my artworks,” said the artist who was born in Denpasar in 1994.

Venture south to the famous surfing destination Uluwatu and drop into Wishingwell, a happening new bar, restaurant and community art and creative venue. The structure’s ceiling features Swoofone’s vibrant designs. One of his recent commissioned projects, it features eighty-eight large painted aluminum panels which took the artist two months to complete.

‘Prerai Anyar’ a collaboration between Swoofone and Wayan Donik Dangin, Artotel Sanur, 2021

Swoofone’s upcoming exhibition ‘Prerai Anyar’ with his friend Wayan Donik Dangin at Artotel Sanur in March 2021 features three collaborative and three personal works by the artists. The painting collaborations on fishing boats feature two traditional wooden jukungs, distinguished by their symbolic bow ornament the Gajah Mina. The exhibition explores cultural ties with fishing which have followed both artist’s family lineage through the generations. 

Arguably the most exciting aspect of Swoofone’s work is his collaborations. ‘Dancing Butterfly’ 2021 fuses the work of photographer Gung Indra, stylist Rika Yuniorika and dancer Kabel Jack, while he contributes an unusual contemporary mask. The project explores aspects of the Balinese visual art culture afresh in a strong and distinct series of photographs.

Beyond the visual sensations, something grander is at play. Swoofone’s aesthetics fuse key elements that function within the subconscious realm. Colour and form contain specific coded frequencies – essential sustenance for nurturing our spirit. His compositions are potent vehicles of contemplation. The meeting of opportunity and potential – Swoofone is a window into the next generation and the future of Balinese art. International contemporary art world take note!

Instagram: @ Swoofone

Words: Richard Horstman

Images courtesy: Swoofone, Gung Indra & Richard Horstman

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