Balinese paintings: a century-old tradition
Paintings are great to decorate a home. Whether we talk about oil paintings, modern paintings or traditional ones, these pieces of art can easily brighten up your living room or bedroom. Balinese painters offer a great array of styles and canvases of different sizes, making Bali one of the biggest exporters of paintings in Asia.
If the Indonesian art is very rich, Bali is renown for being the capital of art. Besides wood carvings, painting is one of the most present form of art. The passion for painting in the island is indeed real: one will find no less than six museums retracing the history of Balinese art and paintings such as Neka Art and Puri Lukisan museums in Ubud, and also an important number of painting galleries such as Five art Studio, Semar kuning Artist Cooperative (Ubud), Purpa Art Gallery, Reservoart (Seminyak), just to list a very few of them!
Balinese are also very dedicated in transmitting their painting know-how with the creation in Ubud of a Center for artistic creativity and in Gianyar of a painting school : Keliki Painting School.
How come Balinese became such masters of painting? Looking at the history, we can observe that prior to the 20th century, Balinese traditional paintings were mainly about visual narrative such as Kamasan or Wayang. These are Hindu-Javanese classic stories. Just like wood carvings, paintings and drawings were used during religious ceremonies, particularly to decorate the temples.
The arrival of traders and explorers in Indonesia then changed the way paintings were made in Bali as they introduced, through their gifts to the Kings, new materials such as paper and paint. By distributing those materials to its artists, Kings allowed them to experiments with new types of art and particularly paintings.
But the 1920’s really marked the beginning of a major change in Balinese paintings with the creation of the Pita Maha artistic community. A community which has been initiated in 1927 when artists such as Walter Spies (German), Arie Smith & WalterBonnet (Dutch) and Adrien Jean le Mayeur (Belgium) were invited by the King in Ubud to share with local painters their know-how and to encourage them to explore new subjects and techniques. Few years later, with the birth of tourists markets and their strong focus on exotic paintings, young Balinese artists started to draw and paint with new kind of styles. This is why it is widely accepted that Balinese paintings are largely influenced by the western culture.
As a result of the fertility of the ground, the agricultural activities are somehow limited in Bali, which explains why so many locals engage in arts, including painting. Different techniques can be found; but most of the time, oil painting on canvas using knife is used. Balinese painters tend little by little to define their own style and to let go off western influence. Hidden in their painting workshops or visibly displayed to tourists in the street, their creativity knows no limits, allowing them to explore may themes and styles : abstract paintings, animal paintings, religious (Buddha) paintings, nature paintings, portraits, etc.
With their high spirits and constant smile, Balinese artists keep the painting tradition alive and well in the island of Gods.