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Bali Arts


Some travelers visit Bali simply to buy paintings. They hop off the plane, catch a taxi to Ubud, acquaint themselves with the going prices, and then begin the buying spree.

Balinese paintings are known for their vibrant colors, iconography, stylized figures and ornate backgrounds, and are almost certainly derived from the Wayang Kulit or shadow puppet theatre. The similarities between the colorful, stylized puppets and the figures depicted in many paintings, illustrate the connection. Of course, the influx of Majapahit Hindus also had an impact on painting styles, not to mention Western artists.

Earliest paintings

The earliest paintings, known as the Kamasan style are traced to the 17th century kingdom of Klungkung, where Wayang Kulit figures were incorporated into paintings. Initially, the pictures adorned temples, later becoming decorations for the home. The figures are typically shown frontal, a three quarter view of the face rather than a profile as with the puppets. The artists used natural pigments on bark paper, wooden boards, or on woven, unbleached cloth. Themes are mainly derived from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Twentieth Century

In the early 20th century, no rajas to commission works, many painters laid their brushes to rest. Between the World Wars, a couple of Western artists who'd heard about a haven of artisans, moved to Ubud. The German, Walter Spies, and the Dutch artist, Rudolf Bonnet, established studios in Ubud, encouraging the locals to ignore set formulas, and themselves toying the traditional Balinese methods. The artists used Western style materials, the themes were often free of Religious symbolism, focusing on daily scenes. Colors were restrained, even monochrome, the figures comparatively realistic, although light and shade were largely ignored.

A new generation of Balinese painters was born Made Griya, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and Ida Bagus Anom. In 1936, Spies, Bonnet and several indigenous painters founded an association called Pita Maha devoted to the development of the arts in Ubud, but it disintegrated with the outbreak of the Second World War.

In Batuan, at this time, artists were creating their own styles, some influenced by the Pita Maha. Batuan paintings featured fine lines, painstaking detail filling the entire canvas, and sombre greens and maroons. Themes included fables, legends, the supernatural and later, tourism. I Made Budi, is especially famous for his witty interpretations of tourism, as well as political events.

From the 1950s to the Present

In the 1950s, in Penestanan, a new style emerged influenced by the Dutch painter, Arie Smit, the Australian Donald Friend. Characterized by strong primary colors and simple, bold lines, the paintings demonstrated a child like joy of reality. The paintings sometimes referred to as the naive or young artists style, are extremely popular among tourists, and despite their relatively simple and quick creation, demand the same prices as more complex and technically superior paintings.

There are a few academic painters who have received formal training abroad or at the Indonesian art academies in Yogyakarta and Denpasar. These painters are dedicated to personal styles while still exhibiting Balinese influences.


The Balinese will carve and sculpt anything wood, stone, bone, horn, deadwood, even roots. It seems that no stone is left unadorned, no piece of wood bare. The ornate split gateways of the temples, to the door of your hotel, everything seems to be carved.

Traditionally, stone was carved for temples and buildings. There has always been a demand for stone carvers, because the soft volcanic paras used for building, although easy to sculpt, deteriorates quickly. Tourism, however, has altered demand, and many carvers have turned to wood.

Initially, the woodcarvers were Brahmana, dedicated to carving for ritual or courtly commissions, the tradition was passed to their son. The traditional Wayang style was prevalent, depicting religious characters and tales of the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics.

Under the influence of Walter Spies, the Pita Maha, the style of carving developed to portray realistic, daily scenes. Today, painted carvings made out of local soft woods are mass produced and imitation fruit, garish garuda and tacky masks can be bought anywhere. Despite the mindless duplication, there are sculptures carved with genius. Like the one made by I Nyoman Tjokot.

The Art Centre at Denpasar and Ida Bagus Tilems gallery at Mas, offer rare treasures.


Cloth, to the Balinese, is not so much a necessity as a mark of religious and social standing. Even statues and shrines share in the sartorial splendor.

Balinese cloth is amazingly cheap and gorgeous. Buying from the markets is easy, but the best bet is to venture into the weaving factories and cloth shops. And while you're there, have a seamstress transform your purchase into a fine garment.


Hate to disappoint, but most batik sold to tourists is imported from Java. Some factories make hand figured batik, particularly in Gianyar.


A tie dyed woven cloth, endek is created from the ikat method of dyeing. Sections of the fabric are wrapped, and then the cloth is immersed in dye, the wrapped parts remaining undyed. The process can be repeated several times. This creates a muted, wavy pattern.

Kain Prada

These are fine fabrics of woven silk or cotton decorated with gold or silver threads, and are usually made into scarfs.


This is a rare method of weaving, only practiced in Tenganan, Karangasem. Both the warp and the weft are dyed in what's called the double ikat method. Colors are made from natural dyes, and are limited to black, red and yellow. One piece of geringsing may take a couple of years to work. Prices are around one million rupiah range, but the cloth is extremely rare and painstakingly crafted.


This is the real ceremonial brocade. Gold and silver threads are added on the loom creating a range of patterns simple lines to intricate lotus flowers and Wayang Wit figures.

Songket is sold in art shops throughout the island.
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