Bali has its own paintng satyle which can be said it is unique can not be grouped as realitic, surrealism or imaginair or any of the known school. This type of painting from the beginning got no influence from anywher until around 1925 when western artists heard about this type of painting in Bali. Many western artists came to Bali to see themselves the reported paintings by travel writers, travellers and even anthropologists.
Since the first paintin on canvas was introduced in 1550, at Kamasan village near current Klungkung city, until today the painting has been developped into 4 styles known as Batuan style, Ubud stayle, and the Young Artist style. It was probable that Kamasan style was developed into Batuan, then to Ubud. While Young Artist style was dvelopped recently in Ubud by western artists.
It would not feel complete if short account on what tradition actually underlies the profession of an artist in Bali especially, painter, carver, and architect. These main art works were often a one-man master. Since to a house or a temple constructor will need those three elements of expertise. So, it is important to bring a short account on thought or concepts that underlay an artist's profession.
One teaching of Bali Hindu worth mentioning is about how one can worship and understand god. Those who cannot use his intellectual contemplation to understand gods, is given a way by just dedicating her/himself for working, no further enquiry is needed. As an architect is to design the temple, as a musician is to play the music during ceremony, as a dancer is to dance during ceremony and so on. This way of worship is called “Bhakti Marga” literally means self-dedication way. This teaching has been always like a fertilizer of Balinese arts. When 95% Balinese were illiterate, it must all of them have chosen this way. This teaching has formed a living tradition, which is still can be seen until now. To become a painting artist he must understand the rules of Silva Castra, Manawa Siksa Wayang, and Kusuma Dewa scriptures. It is not found so far the professional name of a painting artist in Balinese. To become a carver has also to understand above scriptures plus three other scriptures such as Prasasti Sangging, Dharmaning Sangging and Pawisik Mpu Sangging Lobangkara. A carver in Balinese is called an “Empu” or “ Sangging” A sangging whenever he add to his expertise the knowledge on Astabumi and Asta Patali, as the manuals, than he become an architect. An architect in Balinese is called an “Undagi” Beside the technical aspects Balinese architect must know its ‘ corresponding religious ceremony. These scriptures are not precisely known when they were written, except Silva Castra is an Indian Hindu scripture, which is believed to have been created as old as Ramayana Epic. We can say based on the emergence of new creative art in Bali, that all creations of art before 19th century were fully regulated by the tradition from anatomy, colour, space, up to the function. Every stroke is embedded with a certain meaning especially of religious importance. Every creation of art is for the sake of the gods.
The indication of art in Bali has been found as early as metal age. Such as the excavation of settlement site at Gilimanuk, now the seaport that connects Bali and Java disclosed burial jars and sarcophagi were carved or painted in simple patterns. Finding of burial sites are wide spread in Bali. According to the report until now 53 sarcophagus from 37 excavated sites disclosed simple carving.
The finding of bronze drum in Pejeng shows more elaborate development of painting art. This drum is now preserved well in one of the shrine of Penataran Sasih temple at Pejeng. The type of painting is still mostly geometric and only small part showing free-hand shaping. Since this painting was made by casting might, and by no means possible to draw by free-hand. An interesting myth is associated with this drum by local people and which has spreaded on all Bali. One upon a time, moon were two, so almost every night the world was bright. A thief felt unbenefited with this nature, since he can only steel during the dark, to his angriness he urinated one of the moon, so it become dark and felt to the earth. Local people associated the myth of fallen moon with this bronze drum.
In spite the fact that the current thought among historians such as bronze art work were casted and produced in Dong Son ( now Viet Nam ), a fragment of the cast (printing mold) was found in a village of Manuaba, Bali. This was quiet surprising the experts, since the positive reliefs on the cast showing exactly the same pattern of those patterns on the surface of “Pejeng Moon”. This raises an assumption that “Pejeng Moon” was casted in Bali. Ethnographic study on metallurgy work in Bali among those blacksmiths at Tiyingan village and some places in Bali gave no hope. Since blacksmiths in Bali do not use “melting technique” while the drum was definitely using it.
A couple of stone statue at Penulisan, North to Kintamani, showing a distinct observation of the manual. This sculpture was made by Empu Bga in 1011 AD and was dedicated to the royal Price and Princes. Among dozens of ancient stones sculptures at Pura Penataran Sasih, Pejeng one Princes with similar art style with those in Panulisan bearing the date 1342 AD. Pejeng area is rich with ancients sculptural heritages, of which historians supposed that old Balinese kingdom's capital must had been around here.
Wayang Kamasan Painting
This style is the oldest painting art in the sense of
that the painters represented his art-creation on true painting, not as part or decoration of a carving, altars or rock reliefs. The object of the paintings are the figures of wayang puppet. While wayang puppet drama got it's story from Ramayana Epic, a famous ancient Indian heroic and romantic story. The earliest indication that wayang was known in Bali is shown by an ancient reliefs located very near Goa Gajah rock carving and Penataran Sasih temple. These reliefs tell us that during 1011 to 1342 AD the drama has already known in Bali at least among artists and royal family.
A chronicle on Balinese history mentions that during the reign of his majesty king Dalem Watu Renggong ( 1460 – 1550 AD ), Bali controlled East Javanese kingdom of Blambangan ( now Banyuwangi regency). From where a box of wayang figures were confiscated and brought to the palace. Since the king loved arts and letters, historians supposed that the king ordered one of the artist to develop painting. An embarrassing story about the king was recorded, that he wanted to merry the daughter of king of Blambangan. To the envoys of king Watu Renggong, the princes asked to make a drawing of king Watu Renggong before saying acceptance. By her father his majesty king Sri Juru the artist was asked to draw an ugly picture of Watu Renggong from which the princes than refused to marry him.
A village near the capital city of the kingdom that was Kamasan, than become the place where the first painting on canvas was developed. Basic style is the imitation of wayang puppet figures. The character of this painting is simple, it does not introduce dimensions of space, and perspective, it is just flat. The use of red, white and black colors were preponderant. To produce red colour they used mountain stone called “pere” and white color was produced from the ash of ship's bone or some times using lime stone. Black color, using the remains of wood-fire, or the smoke resulted from the firing of oil. Later this black color using Chinese ink, since the trade between Bali and Chinese seems to have been quiet frequent in the past, both through Java or directly from eastern part of Vietnam.
As already mentioned above, that every stroke for decoration and anatomy is given a name, and must be consistent in shape and color. The motifs look simple but for untrained is hard to draw consistently. It is like stamp wherever it is put it is the same. A concentric circle with stylized leaves for example is used to decorate head dress, earings, hand bands, belt, and other parts of the dress.
One important spirit of Balinese artist is his pride when his creation is imitated by students or other artists. No personal intellectual right was claimed as the individual distinction. This spirit has established an art with communal characteristics within a given area. I visited one of the “ Sanggar” ( like a school) at the village of Kamasan, it has 25 children whom are mostly elementary school students. According to the grade of difficulty, the students are divided into 3 levels.
- Beginners The beginners, who is given the basic patterns and have to re-draw until 400 times pages. The instructor said normally after drawing this amount the hand will be somewhat consistent
- Middle level Middle level, for those who have passed beginners are learnt how to construct related patterns into segment of dress, anatomy or one single complete unit such as earrings, hand bands and others. In this level coloring is also thought
- Advance level Advance level, where students are learnt to draw a complete figure. Here a space for creation is also given. The understanding of creation is limited on different composition of the same elements. So that, at a distance whatever the creation is one will see the same style. It is exactly the same concept as Balinese traditional music. The melody consists of only 5 notes : [ 1 3 5 7 1 ] Although the number of melody as seen on Balinese music are 12, but it is repeated with the same notes. Seen from the number of music composition, it could be unlimited like guitars or piano can play. But the composition will be heard the same by those who do not familiar with Balinese music.
Before 1960s this painting was widely known in Bali. Almost all temple were painted with this type. This type of painting than known as “wayang Kamasan” painting. Almost all painters in Bali were painters of wayang Kamasan style. It is strange in spite of the new styles have been emerged in Bali this type still lives at least at Kamasan village, where almost every family is a painter. Painting is a part time for them beside working at the rice field, open shops or workers. The growing popularity of Bali as a tourist's destination gives an incentive to the painters. New ideas as the materials for painting now do not just on canvas but on various materials such as egg, bamboo, coconut shell and various souvenirs.
As it is well known that almost at every tourism object appear many art-shops, none of them selling painting from Kamasan. The family in Kamasan use their home as a studio and atelier. You can not find this painting outside the village.
A Balinese artist by education, I Nyoman Gunarsa built a museum near Kamasan village. He collected various Kamasan paintings, and some are from the works of 400 years ago.
Batuan Painting Style
At a village called “Batuan” around 15 kms from Denpasar , and around 50 kms from Kamasan appeared more elaborated painting. The basic frame and patterns are the same as Kamasan style. Black and white are dominant, with small use of golden ink. Most of the painting objects are the same as those in Kamasan, only here have been developed to include picture of Balinese dancer, musicians and ceremony. The principle of consistency is still obvious, such as the identique clothing patterns, and without space dimension and perspectives, so the picture looks flat. A noticeable difference from Kamasan style are impression of softness, and reality on all works. Lighting tone has been vaguely observable on some paintings, specially for painting of leaves, steps, and pavilions. But as a general concept for painting is not yet applied. The most striking character of this style is it's very detail work. It looks that every stroke of pen or drawing brush got an equal finishing touch.
It is no document or proof that could be used to conclude when exactly this painting was born. One is clear that this painting is development of Kamasan style. Different from Kamasan style, that these paintings are on exhibition at all bigger art-shops. Bigger size is quiet expensive, so most of artists develop a small size around 25 x 15 cm. This is very popular in Bali for local people or tourists.
Ubud is around 30 km from Denpasar and around 10 kms from Batuan. The style appeared in Ubud has almost the same as the patterns at Batuan. The object of painting in Ubud at the beginning were not only gods, demons, and Balinese dances but it was extended to people, nature, animal, and specific view of ceremonies. It looked that the artists had thought beyond the old manuals. The freedom in choosing the object will automatically followed by consequences that old limited patterns couldn't meet the new choice of object. The picturing of complete environments for example will demand a complete skill of painting all entities existing in a given scenery. A scenery may covers houses, roads, trees, palm, shrub, water pits, rice field, animals, flowers, people and others. A view of a ceremony for example will consist of dozen of objects, as a unit of a scenery. But sill here, the so-called-space dimension or perspectives was not yet taken into account. The concept of detail work up to the dot is still preponderant.That is why an object of trees for example which is very far away at the background we still can count the number of it's leaves. A pig far away we can still observe it's black-yellow kniles.
By the coming of Western painters such as Walter Spies, a German painter in 1926, and Rudolf Bonnet, a Dutch artist in 1928, a new concept of painting influenced Ubud. The main concept was coming from realism. Here the introduction of space dimension, perspective, lighting, and reality become the main techniques of shaping the object. The object is shown within the context of the others in a given space. Here the function and skill of manipulating the light is the most important aspect. The introduction of space dimension was not limited to two dimensions but already three dimensions, which give the object as it is a single and real entity. The contribution R. Bonnet and Walter Spies in the development of Ubud painting have brought influences on development also on the carving art. Two famous carving styles emerged, those are “ Cokot” and I.B. Nyana styles. “Cokot” style was developed by Balinese I Gst Nyoman Lempad, he used the material as it is natural such as roots, or artistic part of natural wood to be carved. While I.B. Nyana developed a style of flat and elongated, so some times a human carving look like snake.
The influence of western painters bring also a new style within the frame of Ubud style. Now the objects of painting extended into any entities such as birds, flowers, sceneries, peoples, animals and any …… One old concept still remind is “detail to the dot” This later version is called “ Young Artists”
The new development of painting was followed by en effort to organize a wider standard of quality among the artists in Ubud and environment. The idea of up-grading the standard had born a foundation called “ Pita Maha”, an organization that brought the artists go international by organizing exhibitions at home and abroad. The era was between 1930 to 1945, when the starting point of Bali become known internationally. This foundation later was continued by the establishment of the oldest art-museum in Ubud. This museum is now known as “Museum Puri Lukisan” In the course of time and development of tourism in Bali, many private museum have been emerged such as: Agung Rai fine art Museum, Neka Museum, and dozens of Private Collectors. Private studios were emerged such as Don Antonio Blanco studios Hans Snell studios, Nyoman Ada Studio, Agung Raka Studio, and many more.
New tendencies among artists in Bali are freedom to choose techniques and objects. Most of these artists got formal education. They are not depend on the old manuals and traditions, but looking for self identity. The year of 1945 can be considered as the turn of the new era.
Denpasar, March 1984
I Made Terima
- Gung Wayan Tjidera : Sejarah Seni Rupa Bali 1945 – 1983, Berkala no. 5 Dewan Kesenian Jakarta 1984
- Projek Museum Bali : Mengenal Beberapa Museum di Bali, Dirjen P & K, 1981/2
- Projek Museum Bali : Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, Dirjen P & K, 1983/4
- Bernet Kempers, A.J. : Monumental Bali, Periplus Edision, 1989
Arma Fine Art
Art Center Denpasar
Gold and Silver Art
Wooden Sculpture Mas
Ubud Art and Artists' Organization
Ubud and Batuan Unique Painting Style
Among various tour packages and tour options in Bali there are some tours which can be said always on the publications and interest a large part of travellers to Bali. Kintamani mountain tour sits at the first number as the most popular sightseeing tour, second is Taman Ayun and Tanah Lot tour, third is Uluwatu temple tour.