I Nyoman Mandra, born in 1946, is currently the most prominent artist of Kamasan-style painting tradition. He has an eminent ancestry: his maternal grandfather Rambug (c. 1850-1925) and his uncle Nyoman Dogol (1875-1963) were leading Kamasan artists of their respective generations.
Mandra is considered probably the most knowledgeable artist of Kamasan tradition – an important attainment, since painters of this tradition use the vast pool of stories and iconography to conceive their paintings. For artists this knowledge is equally, if not more, important than the technical skills and Mandra commands outstanding artistic skills as well as superb knowledge of the narratives. In his paintings he introduced new composition standards, softer colour designs and beautifully refined lines.
Unlike many other painters of Kamasan style, Mandra often goes beyond well known and frequently depicted stories and episodes from the classical epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. He often chooses episodes of more quiet and reflective nature. Perhaps it is his response to the numerous upheavals and violent events of modern Balinese history. But he also paints episodes of great spiritual importance such as the birth of significant symbolic characters and transformation of power, which metaphorically address the big ethical issues of humanity. In the catalogue for Mandra’s retrospective exhibition in 2009 Professor Adrian Vickers asserts that Mandra’s reputation is built around “his dedication to preserving the highest standards that give Kamasan painting its ‘classical’ status, and his ability to work in innovative and interesting ways within the tradition”.
Mandra has a strong desire to keep the Kamasan painting tradition alive and he works tirelessly not only on his paintings, but on community projects as well as sharing his expertise with other artists, academics and students. Among his former students are Wayan Pande Sumantra (born 1966) and his own talented daughter Ni Wayan Sri Wedari (born 1974). Working alongside Mandra and supporting this consummate artist is his wife Ni Nyoman Normi – herself an accomplished painter and skilled colourist.
Mandra’s concern for the future of Kamasan painting tradition can be understood as it went through various turmoils from the outset of the 20th century. He can be seen not only as the superbly accomplished artist but also as an important bearer of this tradition who, through his innovative work, illustrates the adaptability and resilience of Kamasan paintings.