Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture.

I Nyoman Gunarsa (1944-2017) was a modern Balinese artist, the first to achieve such prominence in Indonesia and internationally. He was described as exuberant and optimistic, with a mesmerising enthusiasm for life. He was energetic and active, for a long time lecturing at The Academy of Art (Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia) in Yogyakarta and was co-founder of Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (1970) – a very important and influential artists’ association in Indonesia.

With expressionistic flamboyant style, a mark of modernity and his personal liveliness, Gunarsa used the elements of Balinese iconography, costumes and ceremonies, propagating them freely through his paintings and drawings with dynamic lines and strokes alluding to rhythm, dance and movement. Gunarsa developed his expressionistic style in the 1980's; he described his painting process using words such as “singing” and “dancing.”

While experimenting with and remaking the visual hallmarks of Balinese imagery, Gunarsa respected and valued traditional culture and classical paintings. He made one of the most significant collections of traditional Balinese paintings and related accessories such as puppets, carvings and other objects of cultural decorum.

For this collection, and his own paintings, he built a museum in his home village of Banda in the 1990s. It is not without symbolism that the Nyoman Gunarsa Museum is a few kilometres from Gelgel, the centre of the Balinese Kingdom which during the reign of King Dalem Waturenggong (middle 16th century) experienced renowned cultural prosperity. The King offered generous support and patronage to artisans and artists of the nearby village Kamasan. Thus, the Kamasan-style of painting emerged, with artists of the village producing pictures for temples and royal courts over several centuries, setting the standards and assurance of quality for this original artform - an essential part of Balinese cultural identity.

The Collection of classical Balinese art in Nyoman Gunarsa Museum is complemented by a similar (if smaller) collection at the Australian Museum. Both collections supplement each other in many ways and are collectively an important repository of this tradition, accumulating a substantial body of knowledge by artists, art historians, curators, collectors and students of Balinese culture.

Dr Gunarsa was not only a prominent artist and educator but also a significant figure in Indonesian and Balinese culture, contributing generously to shaping its directions and social relevance for artists, the public and ultimately national heritage. Nyoman passed away on Sunday, 10 September 2017, but his soul and spirit present in his work will remain alive and continue to inspire the successive generations of artists and the public in his country and beyond.

Additional information:

Gunarsa’s paintings are known and held in many countries, including Malaysia, Australia, Netherlands, Japan, Singapore, France, Monaco and USA.

He was the recipient of numerous awards, such as Pratisara Affandi Adi Karya Art Award (1976), Best Work of Biennale III and IV Jakarta (1978 and 1980), Lempad Prize (1980), Silver Medal of Biennale I Art of Yogyakarta (1988), Dharma Kusuma Cultural Award from Local Government of Bali (1994), and Satyalancana Kebudayaan Art Award from the President of the Republic of Indonesia (2003).