Information before you go
Bali paintings were made for the Balinese kings and temples but with the arrival of western artists this local art form started to change and evolved into different styles.
The first thing you'll notice when you're in Bali is that paintings seem to be every where in restaurants, hotel lobbies, toilets, on the beach, on top of cars and even on the backs of motor bike drivers.
Paintings are transported in several ways on the island
When you walk around the streets of Sanur, Ubud or Kuta you'll find lots of shops selling paintings in every style and colors.
Everybody seems to be a painter or in the painting business, which makes sense since in the early days every body would consider oneself a artist; it was part of every day life and religion. It wasn't considered a form of art like in the western world.
After work was done in the rice fields they would come together and make ornaments, decorations and paintings for religious ceremonies, temples and the palaces of the Balinese kings. They painted together and that's the reason that you can't find any names on the paintings before the 1920s.
There was also a group of painters who were more talented than the average painter and most of them came from a small village called Kamasan near Klungkung (now Semarapura). Klungkung was the capital of the Gelgel Kingdom so it speaks for itself that many artists and painters settled in Kamasan.
Kamasan Style painting
Together they painted various epics of the popular Mahabharata and Ramayana Hindu stories on large, rectangular cloths called Langse and on narrower ones 30 cm wide by several meters called Iders-Iders.
The Langse were used as curtains in the palaces of the kings or as wall decoration in temples whereby the smaller Iders-Iders were used as decorations around shrines and temples. The Kamasan painters portrayed many scenes of the Hindu epics from beginning to end on these single canvases giving it a busy and crowded character.
The works of these artists had to follow strict rules and guidelines of the Wayang style originated from East-Java. The Wayang style is a flat two-dimensional style that portrays the figures in the story in a certain way with only the red, blue, brown, yellow and light ochre for flesh colors.
The kings, princess, noblemen and heroes always had to be drawn with certain colors to understand their character and status.
Their head dresses, clothing and jewelry were always prominent and their gestures and postures graceful. On the other hand the devils and giants in the paintings were drawn with canine fangs, bulging eyes and fat bodies.
Nowadays in Kamasan you can still see painters working in the traditional Wayang style.
At the end of the 1920s painting in Bali was in decline caused by a lack of new orders for temples and religious ceremonies.
But then the German painter Walter Spies and later the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet settled down in Ubud.
They brought with them European painting techniques that were completely new to Bali. Local Balinese artists were influenced by them and started to see painting as an art form, something they've never done before.
Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet formed the Pita Maha Group together with the royal Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati from Ubud. Their aim was to help local painters to be more expressive, develop their painting skills and to create an international market for their works. From then on local painters started using shades and depths, bright colors and perspective in their works.
Ubud Style painting
The Pita Maha Group was a huge success and a lot of painters started to join the group and make a living from their Balinese paintings, which were now sold around the world. Their painting style is known as the Ubud Style.
The Pita Maha Group existed until the outbreak of World War II when Walter Spies (German national) was imprisoned by the Dutch colonial power and put on a boat to Sri Lanka. This prisoner boat was bombarded by the Japanese killing Walter Spies.
Rudolf Bonnet was also imprisoned and put in work camps around South-East Asia but returned after the war and cofounded one of the best museums in Ubud
The Pita Maha Group also influenced painters in the neighboring village of Batuan but here they stuck to to the Kamasan style of crowded canvasses with scenes from daily lives. Their style is called the Batuan style.
After the war in 1956 another Dutch painter called Arie Smit settled down in Penestanan near Ubud and opened a studio where the children of local rice farmers were stimulated to draw from their imagination and experiences of daily life.
Arie Smit provided the local children with as many painting materials as possible. They drew differently than the painters from the Pita Maha school, who loved to paint traditional reflections of myths and legends.
The students of the Young Artist style as they were called used a childish painting style with bright colors and dark outlines in their paintings.
Young Artist style painting
With the rise of tourism in the 1960s more paintings were drawn than ever on Bali. This was also the time when mass production of Balinese paintings in every style possible started to arrive.
The Balinese people started to open shops or galleries with all sorts of art for tourists. This explains the many art shops in the tourism centers of Kuta, Sanur and Ubud.
paintings and 'art shops' in abundance
If you are interested in buying any of the paintings try to visit one of the museums in Ubud such as the Puri Lukisan Museum, Neka Museum or the Arma Museum so you'll get a good overview of the various painting styles and you'll know what to look for in a painting when buying one.
To make pictures in the museums is prohibited because the flash of your camera could damage the paintings. It's difficult not to make any, they are so beautiful but I kept the camera in my the pocket. Therefore for this page we've used pictures from the museum websites.
You can’t leave Bali without doing some shopping. Bali has beautiful handmade items ranging from home accessories, souvenirs, clothing to furniture.Read more
Even if you don’t like shopping you should head to the Ubud market. Only if it is to see all the colorful local goods on sale. Souvenirs are mainly sold in the afternoon.Read more
Everywhere in Bali you will see beautiful woodcarvings. Whether it is a little statue, at temples or a door with a complicated design. All of them uniquely handmade.Read more
Now and then people send us inspiring emails and this generates even more enthusiasm to share all of the things we know about this lovely island in the hope that you can plan your tropical holiday properly and have as such a great time as we always have. Hope to see you there!
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