Balinese Man KIT, Amsterdam

Balinese Wood Carving underwent similar transformation during the 1930s and 1940s. The creative outburst emerged during this transition period is often attributed to western influences. Recent exhibition at the Nusantara Museum, Delft, the Netherlands traced the Art Deco influence on Balinese wood carving. The curator of the exhibition conjectured further that the Art Deco influence continued well into 1970s.

During the transition years, the Pitamaha Artist Guild was the prime mover not only for Balinese paintings, but also for the development of modern Balinese wood carvings. I Tagelan (1902-1935) produced an elongated carving of a Balinese woman from a long piece of wood that was given by Walter Spies, who originally requested him to produce two statues. This carving is in the collection of the Puri Lukisan Museum in Ubud.

Other masters of Balinese modernist woodcarving were: Ida Bagus Nyana, Tjokot and Ida Bagus Tilem. Ida Bagus Nyana was known for experimenting with mass in sculpture. When carving human characters, he shortened some parts of the body and lengthened others, thus bringing an eerie, surreal quality to his work. At the same time he didn’t overwork the wood and adopted simple, naive themes of daily life. He thus avoided the “baroque” trap, unlike many carvers of his day.

Tjokot gained a reputation for exploiting the expressive quality inherent in the wood. He would go into the forest to look for strangely shaped trunks and branches and, changing them as little as possible, transforming them into gnarled spooks and demonic figures.

Ida Bagus Tilem, the son of Nyana, furthered Nyana and Tjokot’s innovations both in his working of the wood and in his choice of themes. Unlike the sculptors from the previous generation, he was daring enough to alter the proportions of the characters depicted in his carving. He allowed the natural deformations in the wood to guide the form of his carving, using gnarled logs well suited for representing twisted human bodies. He saw each deformed log or branch as a medium for expressing human feelings. Instead of depicting myths or scenes of daily life, Tilem took up “abstract” themes with philosophical or psychological content: using distorted pieces of wood that are endowed with strong expressive powers. Ida Bagus Tilem, however, was not only an artist, but also a teacher. He trained dozens of young sculptors from the area around the village of Mas. He taught them how to select wood for its expressive power, and how to establish dialogue between wood and Man that has become the mainstream of today’s Balinese woodcarving.

The spirit of Pitamaha is well preserved by the decedents and students of these artists. The contemporary Balinese wood carvers include I Muja, I Sama, I Sukanta Wahyu, I Widia, and many others.

Selected Works

I Tagelan, c 1930s.
Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali
“Pensive Young Balinese Man” c. 1950s
Provenance: Pandy Gallery, Sanur
Ida Bagus Tilem,
“Dewi Gadru” 1952
An Elderly Balinese Lady Squatting,
Mahogany Wood
I Tjokot, c 1930s.
Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali

General References:
Frans Leidelmeijer, Art Deco beelden van Bali (1930 -1970) – van souvenir tot kunstobject, Museum Nusnatart, Delft, the Netherlands (2006)
Jean Couteau, Museum Puri Lukisan Catalog, Bali, Indonesia (1999)