Rio Saren parts with convention to forge fresh directions in Balinese painting

‘Menata potongan kertas/Arranging paper cuttings’ 2021 – Rio Saren, mixed media on canvas, 190 x 250 cm.

Artists are distinguished by their observation and awareness of the human experience and their ability to transform inspiration into engaging creative forms. During the past two decades, Rio Saren has experimented obsessively with colour, items and form, striving to satisfy his curiosity. Fusing insight with imagination he creates unique paintings and objects outside of Balinese art conventions.

Saren’s fifth solo exposition, ‘EXPLORATION: Divine Harmony’ marked the 5th-anniversary celebrations of Yayasan TiTian Bali (TiTian Bali Foundation), 11 April 2021, at Titik Dua in Peliatan, Ubud. The occasion was highlighted by the Anugerah Pusaka Seni’s presentation (Lifetime Achievement Award) to I Made Wianta (1949-2020), the prize accepted by his wife, Intan Kirana. A maverick of contemporary Balinese expression since the 1970s and the third Indonesian invited to the Venice Biennale in 2003, Wianta is one of the nation’s most renowned international artists.

Rio Saren’s mixed media sculptures in the foreground. Background paintings by Rio Saren

The outcome of two years of work, the exhibition features sixteen paintings, four sculptures and two installations. ‘EXPLORATION’ is a TiTian platform to encourage artists to make a leap of faith into the unknown. “I began this series of works in January 2020. My inspiration came while working as a rice farmer and from various scenarios in my family compound,” Saren told the Jakarta Post. “Nature compels me to reflect upon, and absorb, the meaning of life and to search for its greater significance through art.“ 

‘Serumpun padi di sawah/Rice Field’ 2020 describes a small shelter in his family’s rice field. The building’s apex, iron roof and walls rendered in dark tones dominate the paintings composition which divided into parts. The sky is represented in a plane of olive green, while the field comes alive in brilliant blue. Mature rice plants are depicted in ochres and bronze tones. Tiny black brush strokes identify grass shoots. Metal tools and an array of timbers complete the visual information, which juxtaposes ‘still’ planes of color with the busy milieu of rigid structural lines creating a potent contrast.

From left to right ‘Ranting pohon/Twigs’, ‘Ranting dan daun kering/ Twigs and dried branches’ & ‘Menunggu musim layang – laying/Waiting for kite season’ 2020 – Rio Saren, mixed media on canvas, 50 x 40 cm.

Saren compliments this work with his mixed-media installation of the same title. Three visual elements define it; horizontal corrugated iron represents the hut and the background. Tiny triangular iron shoots upon sheet metal describe the foreground. In contrast, an arrangement of metal tools becomes the ‘focal point’.  “After observation and analysis, I translate the objects that are interesting and contain the essence of life using my language of expression. Some works contain moral messages reflecting upon a simpler and more honest lifestyle,” stated Saren commenting on his creative process.

‘Ranting pohon/Twigs’, ‘Ranting dan daun kering/ Twigs and dried branches’ and ‘Menunggu musim layang – laying/Waiting for kite season’ are arranged side-by-side. Interpretations of seemingly mundane settings in his backyard, each is transformed into fascinating works on their own. This grouping, however, creates a distinct and compelling synergy.  Unlikely, scenarios and objects, seemingly without aesthetic or suggestive potential, come to life anew in unusual configurations that pulsate with visual tension. What we may perceive as ordinary is Saren’s fascination, offering his prowess opportunities to shine.

“Rumah bedeng/Carton house’ 2020 – Rio Saren, mixed media on canvas.

‘Menata potongan kertas/Arranging paper cuttings’ is his only abstract work, drawn from his imagination, yet with seemingly organic and mechanical references. The vast 190 by 290 cm composition has been constructed via cutting shapes from paper, then arranging them to configure a fascinating visual feast. Frequencies of colour and form have a noticeable influence, and the conscious mind becomes quiet while the subconscious basks in delight. Saren’s attention to achieving a strong aesthetic impact is revealed when closely examining the canvas. A layer of sand mixed with glue creates a delicate, evenly textured surface. The pictures are sealed with a glossy coating, allowing vibrant colour to sparkle into life under the gallery lighting. Accompanying his works are photographs of the original scenarios, offering the audience an insight into his creative process.

Four simplistic sculptures fashioned from driftwood, referencing nature and culture, stand alone within the exhibition and are a highlight. Powerfully suggestive, even humorous, they incite many subjective interpretations while revealing the breadth of the artist’s creativity. 

Saren’s outlook is shaped by his philosophies. “Simplicity is essential in life. An uncomplicated attitude enables us to be calm in the face of reality – taking us far from trouble and close to happiness,’ the artist said.  “Simplicity is not an option; it is a wish. Simple steps are steps that do not burden the mind. This attitude may be easily applied to all the actions in life. This is, however, difficult for people to achieve.”

‘Tumpukan Benda Tua/ Piles of brick-a-brack’ 2020, mixed media on canvas, 80 x 60 cm. & ‘Tumpukan Benda Tua/ Piles of brich-a-brack’ 2021 mixed media, 80 x 203 x 18 cm.

“About art, honesty is found within simplicity. Beauty can exist outside and within. I prefer to look for inner beauty, which reflects honesty. We can find beauty through observation and sincere thinking. If you are happy, beauty is born.” explained the artist, born in 1981 and has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in Bali, Java, Japan, China, Bangladesh and Germany. 

Saren graduated from the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar in 2008. Even though he has an academic background, as a whole, he avoids orthodox Balinese art references, freely experimenting and making his own rules. Pointers to his art heritage are his two-dimensional compositions and the black outlines, containing all visual information in his works.  For those who able to visit Titik Dua, ‘EXPLORATION: Divine Harmony’ will not disappoint. Saren’s compositions are fresh interpretations within the Indonesian landscape painting genre.

‘Serumpun padi di sawah/Rice Field’ 2020 – Rio Saren, mixed media on canvas, 80 x 60cm.

A solo Exhibition EXPLORATION: Divine Harmony

11-25 April 2021

Titik Dua

Jalan Cok Rai Pudak,

Peliatan, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali

Words & Images: Richard Horstman

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