History of Bali Painting

Traditional Kamasan Style

Before the 1920's and 1930's Balinese painting was limited to religious applications, calendars and Wayung Kulit: leather shadow puppet theatre. The subject matter of the paintings were charactarized by serialized stories about religion or classical Hindu-Bhuddist culture. The main use of painting was as adornment for temples and collections by local rulers. The paintings illustrated many scenes of a story on a single, large canvas, giving the pieces a crowded and busy texture, but telling a story from beginning to end. 

This classical, or Kamasan painting style, named for the village where it originated, utilized muted colors and strong outlines, with figures painted either in profile or three-quarters view. Materials used were derived from mineral and vegtable sources, using ground animal bone for whites, soot additives for grey tones, clay and ground stone for colors. Brushes were handmade from bamboo, and canvases were usually tree bark, wood, or locally produced cloth treated with paste and burnished with a shell.

Canvases were usually tree bark, wood, or locally produced cloth treated with paste and burnished with a shell.

pic-hist-paintingUbud Style 

By the late 1920's, painting in Bali had met a serious decline, caused in-part by few new commisions for temples and religious ceremonies. However, at this time a few Western artists began to visit and work in Bali. Russian-born painter Walter Spies settled in Ubud and was soon joined by Dutch artist Walter Bonnet. These two artists styles were extremely influential with local artists. Their classical European painting technique, and choice of subject matter was completly new to Bali. Together with a local art patron, Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati, Bonnet and Spies formed an orgainzation called Pita Maha, meaning "Great Vitality" or "Strong Detirmination." The goal of this orgainzation was provide guidance to local painters, help develop painting skills and develop a market for the artist's work. The organization had nearly 100 members by the end of the 30's. The influence of the Pita Maha was significant. Balinese artists began to turn to local everyday scenes as their subject matter, as opposed to traditional religious themes.

Additionally, the artists began adding depth and shading in human forms, perspecitve and color to paintings that had traditionally been composed primarily of earth tones. The paintings now reflected singular scenes of Balinese life, such as work in the rice fields, shopping in the marketplace, and bathing. Works of this period became known as the Ubud style, once again named after the village they originated in. Bonnet and Spies brought with them tempera and water colors. Balinese artists judiciously incorporated these media into their painting style. Bonnet's drawing style influence is evidenced in local work by more careful attention to rendering the human form, subjective lighting of figures, and depth of field incorporated on canvasses. Spies work was more mystical, influenced in style by Rousseau. Local artists adapted and interpretated these influences into their own style and took their inspiration form the lush surrounding land and people.

In addition to perspective and tool changes, the Pita Maha, with the tireless effort of Bonnet, staged a series of exhibitions and heavily promoted local art to collectors throughout the world, thereby making it possible for some Balinese artists to earn an adequate living from their work. Through this, paintings began to be produced for their own sake, as an art form instead of a religious commision, and a large artistic community began to develop around Ubud. Painters in a nearby village, Batuan, also came under the influence of the Pita Maha, but retained more of the Classical Kasaman style. Batuan subject matter turned to everyday life, but still contained many scenes on a single canvas, more subdued coloring than the Ubud style, and dense, crowded canvases. The heightened activity and creative progress in Ubud and Batuan was relatively short-lived due the outbreak of World War II and Japan's invasion of Bali's. 

Walter Spies was imprisoned and died later in a Japanese bombing of a prisoner boat. Bonnet was interned in Sulawesi, but returned to Bali in the 50's to help found the Ubud Puri Lukisan museum.

Young Artists Style

After the war another Dutch-born artist, Arie Smit, became influential in Balinese art. Smit had been working as a topographer for the Dutch army at the outbreak of the war, was captured and interned in Thailand, After the war's end Smit became an Indonesian citizen and taught painting in Bandung where he worked with UNESCO Children's Art program. Relocating to Ubud in 1956, Arie opened his studio to local children and supplied them with whatever art supplies he could acquire. With his encouragement a new style of naive art quickly caught on, which can be seen in the work of his first pupil, I Nyoman Cakra. 

The topics of the painting were once again scenes of typical Balinese life, but this time rendered in bright colors and strong graphic style. The students were encouraged to express themselves freely and many of the paintings do not reflect colors found in nature, but rather inspired only by the painters imagination. The Young Artists style experienced widespread development around Ubud, and is a staple of galleries throughout the region today.

Academic Artist

Acedemic Artists This group of paintings is usually noted by the artist's formal training, both in Indonesia or abroad. The paintings include a variety of painting techniques and styles, but recieve their inspiration form Balinese culture or nature, both historical and contemporary. These paintings cover a wide range of styles from documentary to abstact, and utilize all forms of materials.