A chorus of beautiful rhythmic black lines describes the violent, pulsating ocean whipped into life by tumultuous winds. A vast wooden sailing vessel encounters the might of the natural elements. It safely transports many; warriors and families in search of new horizons across the seas. The expanse of the boat’s structure is illustrated within a linear pictorial language that compels the eye to traverse the detailed design features sweeping from left to right and up and down.

The imposing 230 by 350-centimetre Chinese ink and acrylic painting ‘The Glory of Sailing’ 2020 by Balinese painter Prof. Dr. Wayan Kun Adnyana is a powerful image of drama and tension describing triumph over diversity.

Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana
‘The Glory of Sailing’ 2020 Wayan Kun Adnyana Chinese ink & acrylic on canvas. 230×350 cm. Image Richard Horstman.

Monochrome tones dominate a work of extraordinary movement and dynamic visual textures. Carefully introduced, measured portions of vibrant colour impact the graphical formula, adding to the visual excitement, not overpowering the composition, yet complimenting the work’s animated aesthetic character. The painting requires enormous physical energy and mental fortitude in the medium’s application. It is a progressive technical language the artist has developed in response to his academic and private exploration of Balinese art.

The ‘Glory of Sailing’ is one of over thirty paintings showcased in ‘WASTU WAKTU Fifteen Years on Developing New Paintings of Explotion on Drawings’, Kun’s solo exhibition, which closed on 14th December 2022  at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) in Ubud. Open to the public for one month; the show highlighted works on paper and canvas made between 2014 – 2022. Kun’s aesthetic style is formulated on the complexity of black lines. A technique he developed since 2006 that brings figurative, symbolic, metaphoric and abstract themes to life.

His objective is to explore traditional Balinese art techniques based on the fundamentals of drawing. He skilfully uses a traditional Balinese bamboo brush and Chinese ink to create detailed drawings that merge with contemporary art practices.

Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana
Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana during the opening of Wastu Waktu 16 November 2022 at ARMA Image courtesy of the artist.

Over the past two decades, Kun’s expression of the figurative form, sculptural and powerful, symbolises the remarkable human passage through the ages. It depicts the strength and resilience of the Balinese enduring and overcoming famine, war, disease, volcanic eruptions and Dutch colonial intervention. Yet also the challenges of globalisation and what it means to be Balinese in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing modern world. Kun believes that people emerge as heroes by successfully overcoming diversity.

Born in Bangli, Central Bali, in 1976, Kun first came onto the local art world radar in 2003. He was part of the Kamasra group, a collective of young and rebellious art students who presented a series of criticisms of commercialism in the Bali art world. Kun’s artistic endeavour spans over three decades. During the past two, however, he has clarified his objectives. As a result, his role as an artist has evolved side-by-side with his investigative mission into the history of Balinese art.

An art historian, Kun completed his PhD in Art Studies from the Doctoral Program of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Yogyakarta in 2015. His academic dissertation is based on the famous Pita Maha Artists Association (1936– 1940), the group of modern Balinese artists instrumental in defining Balinese art for the global audience during the first wave of the tourism industry between 1930-1942.  

Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana
‘The Dragon Power’ 2021 Wayan Kun Adnayana. Chinese ink & acrylic on canvas. 200×200 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Especially of note is his six-year research project into the history and aesthetics of the ancient iconography of the Yeh Pulu stone relief in Bedulu, Gianyar. The carving is an enigma to the Balinese; there are no written records of its creation. There is, however, an association with the nearby 9th-century Goa Gajah elephant cave and the mythological giant Kebo Iwa. Legend says he led an army that battled against the Javanese invaders. The reliefs comprise images from the 14th or 15th century depicting people and animals engaged in everyday activities. First, Kun explores the figures, forms and storylines based on the ancient narrative into theatrical compositions. Then, he reimagines them in a new contemporary language for today’s society to make them accessible to the general public.

WASTU WAKTU reflects upon the relationship between time and space in the Balinese timeline from ancient to the present. In connection to space, ‘The Glory of Sailing’ refers to the 13th-16th century maritime power of the Javanese Majapahit Hindu-Buddhist empire. Through oceanic technological advancements, they successfully traversed thousands of kilometres of ocean, securing a vast economic dominion across the entire Nusantara archipelago (the chain of islands known as Indonesia). One of the largest empires of that era, it stretched as far east as the Philippines and west to the Malay Peninsula into southern Siam (Thailand).

Kun describes the collective experience depicting smaller vessels helmed by a single person and small crews. He honours the tremendous human endeavour in seeking new physical domains, which ultimately become imaginative mental spaces. This evolution is achieved both individually and via collective collaboration and unity.

In contrast, ‘Landscape of Heroes’, 2018, is an otherworldly painting. The characters he describes are floating in a vast contemplative space. The composition features a vibrant abstract multi-coloured background, including written text and icons from the Yeh Pulu reliefs. Kun’s scenario references the multidimensional human space and the invisible realm linking with our higher soul aspects.

Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana
‘Landscape of Heroes’ 2018 Wayan Kun Adnyana Chinese ink and acrylic on canvas. 140 x 160cm. Image Richard Horstman

As a student, Kun’s work was first honoured in 1996, and he is a regular nominee for national art prizes. His intellectual prowess has also been recognised, including the Best Graduate with cumlaude in recognition from the Magister Program of ISI Yogyakarta 2008. In 2016, he was awarded Best Lecturer in recognition by the Rector of ISI, Denpasar. In addition, he won the Research, Creative and Desimination Arts Program from Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education of the Republic of Indonesia in 2017, 2018 & 2019. 

Highly prolific as an artist and writer, he has penned numerous articles and essays for local and national media. In addition, he has exhibited widely, nationally and internationally, including in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Switzerland, Australia and the United States.

Prof. Dr. Wayan ‘Kun’ Adnyana occupies a unique position within Balinese art as a contemporary painter, writer and academic. His achievements and vision distinguish him. The former head of the Cultural Office of the Province of Bali, 2019-2021, he is the 2021 – 2025 Rector of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Denpasar. Balinese art is currently enjoying a new era of increased engagement by ministries of the central government of the Republic of Indonesia. ISI Denpasar in 2022 has formalised international cooperative agreements becoming  a Global Bali Arts and Creative Center Hub (G-BACCH). Kun plays a pivotal role in creating new opportunities for emerging Balinese talent.

Instagram: @kunadnyana

Richard Horstman

Richard Horstman

NOW! Bali Art Columnist, Richard Horstman. For over fifteen years Richard has been contributing to national and regional newspapers and magazines writing about art and culture. He is passionate about observing and reporting on developments in the local art and creative infrastructure, and the exciting emerging talent that is flourishing in Bali. IG: @lifeasartasia