One of the most enjoyable aspects of observing the Bali art scene is witnessing young artists’ creative development. To grow, budding artists must take risks and experiment. Some willingly embrace change, others less so. An artist’s career is about the journey, not the destination. There is no substitute for dedication, honesty and hard work.
Contemporary artist Made Gede Wiguna Valasara first came to my attention in 2010 in ‘MEDI(A)ESTHETIC’, an exhibition by the emerging Balinese artist’s collective G-Five Tony Raka Art Gallery Ubud. At the time, he was also exhibiting at well-known galleries in Jakarta.
Born in 1983 in Sukawati, Gianyar, an area internationally renowned for the acclaimed Batuan School of Painting, a Balinese painting genre dating back to the 1930s, Valasara’s creative development, however, led him on an alternative path.
“During my childhood, I was cared for by my grandparents, who were traditional craftspeople of temple decoration. Watching them work was fascinating and my art is inspired by the temple decorations made of cloth,” said Valasara, who studied fine art at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta from 2013. Living in Yogyakarta, Java, for four years allowed him the freedom to step outside of his village cultural responsibilities. This potent period opened him to a broader sphere of knowledge and time to explore his creative ideas.
“I began to experience the canvas differently to my peers,” said the artist whose works have evolved without paint; the canvas, however, becomes the painting. “What manifests on the canvas may stem from an alternative viewpoint. From the closeness of the interaction with the material, to questioning the material through exploration and play. The canvas is not only limited to a painting medium.” According to the artist, it is essential to recognise and interpret something simple and be aware of what may appear unassuming that often escapes others’ attention.
At a glance, Valasara’s recent work ‘Universe’ 2021 125 by 120 cm appears immediately abstract. A chaotic milieu of fine lines swirl, crisscross and collide, manifesting in nondescript forms. New to his visual language, he combines red, blue, green and yellow cotton threads with his mainstay white upon a black canvas background. As the eye ventures deeper into the picture, we break the code of what is unknown and identify 3-dimensional shapes. Moulded from fibre stuffed between layers of canvas and hand-stitched are recognisable forms. Sweeping lines of curved agricultural fields, traditional architectural objects, a bade (cremation tower), and simplistic figures become apparent. The composition reveals itself to us as a Balinese Hindu ceremony.
The third work in his new series which began in 2020 Valasara has substituted working with a plain canvas to working upon black. The juxtaposition of white upon black, red with green and blue and yellow create potent visual tension. Vibrant colour leaps out from the composition, swirling and vibrating, stimulating the subconscious mind and enthralling the eye. The picture is fresh and exciting. “The abstract elements within this work are a representation of the bustling energy and enthusiasm of the Ngaben cremation ceremony. It is also symbolic of other emotions experienced during the event, such as grieving,” he told me.
Valasara’s previous work, ‘Part of the Universe’ finalised late in 2020, is much larger at 120 by 260 cm. His technical process is demanding. Initially, he sketches onto the canvas the structure. By pinching, filling, and making a volume in the canvas, the individual forms take shape, hand-stitched in cotton. Random threads then complete and inform the chaotic abstract elements, adding a unique potency to his works. The complex works require up to two months of painstaking focus to complete.
‘Part of the Universe’ is a flowing picture that draws the viewers eye naturally from left to right across the canvas. The top half of the composition is punctuated by three jagged forms, prominent structural features of a cremation ceremony, that pierce into vast empty space. This work is vastly different than ‘Universe’ 2021. It is defined by its large, negative space of empty canvas emphasising dynamic flowing form and movement within the composition, a technical attribute he has adopted from western art.
Throughout his career Valasara’s artistic themes have included iconic cultural scenarios and subjects to abstract geometries. Flora and fauna descriptions, even western art canons. The visual distinctions often inform his compositions of the Batuan style, of crowded, miniature compositional elements. Valasara says, “The Batuan artists themselves did not influence me, but rather the design of expression that embodies Balinese exoticism; of full canvas fields and complete scenes. I borrow this style to criticise the exoticism of the ritual.”
Having first exhibited in Bali in 2000, Valasara began receiving critical acclaim from the Indonesian art hierarchy over a decade ago. He was selected as a Finalist in the Jakarta Art Award 2010 and the BIENNALE Indonesia Art Award 2010. His upward trajectory continued being a Finalist in the UOB Painting of The Year 2012 and a Finalist in the Indonesia Art Award 2013. Recent highlights include representing Indonesian contemporary art in the high-profile international exhibition ‘Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia’, June – October 2019, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The presentation revealed some of the creative practices of twenty of the most exciting emerging and established artists from the post-Suharto political era in one of the most significant expositions in Indonesia Australia cultural relations.
Perhaps his most special endorsement came in late last year as Winner of the People’s Choice Award of The 2020 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. The 16th edition of Asia’s most prestigious prize for contemporary artists is the largest and most established art prize in the Asia-Pacific region.
Valasara has pushed Balinese painting’s established boundaries, breaking the conventional style by experimenting on multiple dimensions. His determination and willingness to innovate has successfully defined his creative voice within the sphere of Balinese and Indonesian contemporary art.
Written by Richard Horstman, Bali art expert, at lifeasartasia.art and on Instagram @lifeasartartasia.