ART AND ARTIST
THE PLASTIC ARTS IN MODERN BALI
Sculpture and Architecture: The primary function of the
average sculptor is to enhance the public buildings of his community with
florid decoration and judging from the profusion of such carved temple
and palace walls, gates, drum-towers, public baths,
In Bali there is no special class of architects, and the sculptors are in charge of designing, directing, and even working themselves in the construction of a temple, assisted by a number of stone- and brick-workers. A master carver should be able to plan beautiful gates, which are the most important examples of Balinese architecture. In Mas, a village of Brahmanas, we saw once an architectural drawing, rather resembling our architectural proiects- for a temple gate to be erected in the village. The drawing was made by Ida Bagus Ktut, carver, actor, and musician, member of a who'le family of artists; the position and shape of the stones and the carvings on what was to be in sandstone were drawn in great detail on European paper with black ink, with the parts to be made of brick painted red. I believe, however, that this drawing was exceptional, and usually the work is started without a drawn plan. For the making of the great towers for cremation, for example., the master builder simply has the design and the proportions already worked out., 'as the Balinese say, in his belly.
The only stone to be found in the island is a soft sandstone, a conglomerate of volcanic ash called paras, quarried on the banks of rivers. The stone appears to be softer when freshly taken from the ground and becomes harder with time under favourable conditions. Dr. Stutterbeim claims that the stone was protected in Qld times by a coating of cement, but I bad no occasion to verify this and I never found evidence of such cement being used by the present-day Balinese. It is perhaps the softness ' of this, the only stone in Bali, that is responsible for the over-intricate art of the Balinese, making it possible for them to give full vent to their nafve delight in covering all available space with decoration.
The stone is cut and shaped with adzes, directly on the spot where it is quarried, and made.into blocks of various sizes according to requirements. For the large statues of demons that guard the entrance of temples, the great block of paras is roughly shaped to resemble its ultimate form, and when it is considered that enough surplus stone has been removed, it is carried to its destination on stretchers of bamboo - not an easy task, since the quarries are generally at the bottom of deep ravines. I have seen as many as fifteen men struggling up a narrow and slippery path with a great block of stone. The schematic mass of the future devil is placed where it is to remain a, d is finished on the site.
The blocks of stone for construction are put together without mortar,
but it is essential for the stability of the building that the joints
should have a perfect fit. This is accomplished by rubbing the two stones
together, wearing their surfaces down
The stone-carvers follow definite rules when they begin to cover a temple or a palace gate with decoration. For instance, there should be a karang tiewiri over the gate, the face of a leering monster with a hanging tongue and long canines. On less important spots the central motif of a pattern is a karang bintulu, a curiously popular design consisting of a single bulging eye over a row of upper teeth, the canines of which are developed into fangs, surmounted by the representation of a mountain. To finish a corner there is a special motif, a karang titiring, the upper part of a bird's beak, also provided, with a single eye and pointed teeth. For the same purpose there is a variation of this same motif, a karang asti, the jawless head of an elephant. The word karang means a reef, a rock, but it also is the word for setting jewels or for a flower arrangement. It has been attempted to give these ornaments an esoteric religious meaning (according to Nieuwenkamp), the representation of the souls of inanimate objects - rocks, mountains, plants - of which they form a part; when a Balinese was pressed to explain why they did not have lower jaws, he replied that it was because they did not have to eat solid food This is, in my opinion , a typical Balinese wise crack and not an indication of any such symbolical meaning.
These motifs are the starting-point for the intricate volutes, leaves, flowers, flaming motifs, and so forth, strongly reminiscent of those used in ancient Java, but also found in Siam, Cambodia, and even in the objects of the Dyaks of Borneo, a people uninfluenced by Hinduistic art. All-over patterns are called karang, while the carved borders in the mouldings are named patra, of which there is a patra olanda (from the Portuguese word for Holland?) and a patra tiin2, a " Chinese border." Here and there small panels are carved with representations of episodes from their literature: animals from the t2ntri stories, the Balinese,AESOP's fables; suggestive scenes from the Ardiuna Wiwaha in which the nymphs of heaven make passionate love to Ardjuna while he is in deep meditation; or a battle from the Ramayana or Mahabharata, with comic scenes in which the retainers of the heroes, the clowns Twailen and D61am, wrestle and bite each other.
The Southern style of architecture (Badung, Gianyar, Tabanan, Bangli, Klungkung) is characterized by masses of red brick relieved by intricately carved ornaments in grey sandstone in a considerably more restrained style than that of the North of the island (Buleleng) , where it breaks out into a gaudy riot of gingerbread decoration in a stone so soft that travellers have mistaken it for sun-dried mud. The gates of a North Balinese temple are tall and slender, with a flaming, ascendant tendency as if trying to liberate themselves from the smothering maze of sculptured leaves and flowers, out of which peer, here and there, grotesque faces and blazing demons, their shape almost lost in the flames that emanate from their bodies.
The North Balinese take their temples lightly and often use the wall spaces as a sort of comic strip, covering them with openly humorous subjects: a motor-car held up by a two-gun bandit, seen undoubtedly in some American Western in the movie house of Buleleng; a mechanic trying to repair the breakdown of a car full of long-bearded Arabs; two fat Hollanders drinking beer; a soldier raping a girl; or a man on a bicycle with two great flowers for wheels. Fantastic pornographic subjects are always a source of hilarious comedy and in many temples in both North and South Bali such subjects are found as temple decorations. As if the mad tangle of stone vegetation were not enough, in North Bali they outline the decorations with white paint to make them even more conspicuous, and in villages like Babetin, Ringdikit, and Diagaraga the overpowering decoration is painted in bright blue, red, and yellow, giving as a result the wildest and most unrestrained effects.
The art of wood-carving has suffered a curious transformation since our first visit to Bali in 193o. Then the majority of the objects carved in wood were made for utilitarian purposes: from carved doors and beams for houses, musical instruments, masks for dramatic shows, handles for implements, to little statues of deities and other ritual accessories. These were of the conventional contemporary Balinese style: flowers and curlicues in high relief for flat surfaces (ukiran) , and for sculpture in the round (togog), statues of divinities, demons, and other characters of mythology dressed in classical attire and profusely ornamented. Furthermore, all wood-carvings were meant to be covered with paint, lacquer, or goldleaf and only in exceptional cases was the wood left in its raw state. There were unusual pieces, but they were freaks among the predominant styles.
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Travellers had started to buy Balinese carvings, however, and on our return to Bali three years later, the Balinese sculptors were turning out mass-production " objets d'art " for tourists. Even before arriving in Bali for the second time, we found the curioshops of Macassar and Java filled with statuettes of a decidedly commercial style which was totally new to us. Before this we had made acquaintance with Gusti Ngurah Gede', an old man of Pemetjutan rated among the best sculptors of South Bali. Although Gusti Ged6 was so old that he talked with difficulty, be could carve the most delicate motifs in hard wood with a precision and sureness envied by the younger. sculptors. He had started to make realistic little statues of nude girls, bathing, combing their hair, or in the process of undressing, masterfully carved out of a fine-grained white wood, figures that found ready sale among travellers. This was perhaps the beginning of a new art in which the sculptor began working for a new public: tourists who had little appreciation of the technical perfection demanded by the Balinese, or foreign a ritists who preferred line and form to intricate ornamentation.
This necessarily introduced the mercenary element into Balinese art,
until then non-existent; prices were boosted and the sculptor suddenly
became aware thaf'there was a good income in making statues. On the other
hand, this same condition gave
Custi Gede' was also the master of a school of sculptors and every morning boys from the town went to his house to receive lessons and to assist him. Some of.his pupils were already fine carvers and could turn out statues almost as finished as those of the master. In'his school we had the opportunity to observe the technique of wood-ta'rving, which is considerably more refined and requires greater skill than the carvings in pargs stone. Hard woods such , as teak (diati) , jackfruit (nangka) , and the compact sawo, a beautiful dark red wood, are invariably used and the sculptor must have a sure hand, trained by the experience of years,'and , a, good knowledge of the art of cutting into the grain of the wood. He uses every conceivable form of knives, chisels, and gouges: round, straight, slanting, V-shaped, and so forth, some of which are intended for exceptionally deep carving. A complete set of tools consists of some thirty instruments and a wooden mallet. The carving technique consists in chipping bits of wood gradually with the highly sharpened instruments, not by band pressure, as among us, but with light taps of the mallet, obtaining -in this manner delicacy of touch and greater control over the material. If the statue is not to be painted or gilded, it is made smooth with pumice and given a high polish by rubbing it with bamboo.
Painting: Unlike the arts of the theatre, music, and sculpture, painting was little in evidence as a living art on our first visit to Bali. Outside of painting artifacts of daily use and scant decorations for temples, the Balinese made only paintings of two sorts: ide rider, strips of hand-made cotton a foot made by some fifteen or twenty feet long, hung at festivals under the roofs, all around the pavilions in houses and temples; and langs6, wide pieces of painted cloth used as hangings or curtains. There were often calendars (pelelintangan) used to establish the horoscopes of children, divided into squares with symbolical designs, one for each of the thirty-five days of, the month. Often the paintings represented scenes of mythology, episodes and battles from the literary epics; but there were seldon't scenes from daily life and never of contemporary subjects. The characters shown were invariably gods, devils, 'princes, and 'princesses with their retain-ersi dressed in the ancient costumes of Hindu-Javanese times.
Their attitudes were stilted and the subjects standardized, but at times the restricted artist found an episode where he could give vent to his drotic sense of humour and he took good advantage of a. love scene or a mishap to one of the retainers of the heroes. Erotic paintings were met With at times, scenes of fantastic attitudes in love-making, which they assured me would prevent the house where they were kept from burning!
Only the old paintings showed skill and taste; the modem ones sold at the, lobby of the Bali Hotel were coarse, hastily made, and with a sad poverty of subject-matter. Painting was at a standstill, no longer in demand from, the Balinese themselves and suffering from lack of freedom of expression. Only rarely did we find pictures with style, but, the reason for this was the systematic and mechanical manner in which they were made; a master painter drew the main outline's and gave the final touches, leaving his children and apprentices to fill in the colours. Once in Gelgel, centre of painters of "the conventional style, the two children of a painter had a heated argument because one had painted with blue the flesh parts of a figure and insisted he was right.
The following are among the invariable rules to be followed by painters
of the conservative style: all available space must -be covered by the
design, even to the blank spaces between the
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