White Paintings Exhibition: Bali

For once, white takes center stage. The color, which is usually reserved for the background or as a base coat in paintings, is given the royal treatment in an exhibition at the Griya Santrian Gallery, Sanur.

The White Painting exhibit, which runs through Aug. 13, features 16 selected works of seven local painters: Dewa Nyoman Suputra, I Ketut Susena, I Made Mahendra Mangku, I Made Supena, Ni Nyoman Sani, Pande Ketut Taman, and I Wayan Sadu.

The exhibition is being held to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the gallery, which has earned a reputation as a patron of Bali’s young, talented artists.

“For five years, we have given our best to make this gallery a place where the most creative and passionate of our young artists can congregate and share their artistic journey,” said Ida Bagus Gde Sidharta Putra.

Sidharta is the owner of the beachside gallery and the adjoining comfortable hotel with its classical Balinese style and ambience.

At the exhibition opening, Adrian Vickers, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Sydney, praised the gallery.

“The gallery is the only one in Bali to continuously host new shows of contemporary Indonesian art. It is quite an achievement, since it has broken the mold of the set collection displays of the major private galleries,” he said.

Vickers attributed much of these achievements to Wayan Sukra, the German-born art lover who had been the gallery’s principal curator and thinker.

“He is one of the only people working in the area with a genuine art history and curatorial background,” Vickers said.

Sukra selected only the best of works from the painters, including an artwork that held particular significance.

“I first saw the painting five years ago. We didn’t have the sufficient financial power to acquire it back then. Fortunately, it never found a serious buyer. It lay in the artist’s storage until we finally able to raise the money to secure it,” Sukra said.

The painting he referred to was Penari Legong (Legong Dancer), a 1999 work by I Made Mahendra Mangku, one of the island’s most promising artists. The painting clearly illustrates Mangku’s hard-won mastery over composition and abstraction. Moreover, his brush strokes and coloring are simply astounding.

“It is one of the best paintings in this exhibit,” Sukra stressed.
It is quite difficult to find a single mediocre work in the exhibit. Sukra has organized an artistic display that matches the jubilant spirit of the gallery’s anniversary.

Each artist in the exhibit has managed to showcase their personal interpretation of “white” through a finely executed works.

I Ketut Susena, for instance, has composed ominous images of an imminent storm by cleverly juxtaposing clouds in a deep, dark shade with an empty, brilliant white sky.

Pande Ketut Taman, the most senior of the seven painters, has opted for a more daring approach to the theme. He intentionally leaves a large portion of his canvas empty: a vacant field painted in monotonous, dull white. Then, in a carefully selected spot he draws in tiny figures — a man or a bicycle — in black,
accentuated with bright yellow. Suddenly, the whole vacant field has a meaningful purpose.

“All of these painters already possess their own, personal language of symbolism, so I believe they had no difficulty in interpreting the theme and came out with distinctive paintings,” art critic Kun Adnyana said.

“Their interpretations are diverse, yet we can still trace one common thread. None of them treat white as a negative color, the kind of color you use to signify turmoil, distress, doubt or anger,” he continued. “These painters still believe that white is the ultimate positive color, which represents, among other things, purity, serenity and enlightenment.”

For the casual art lover, the exhibition is a refreshing detour from the complexity of colors that has become the signature characteristic of contemporary art.

White Paintings
July 6-Aug. 13
Griya Santrian Gallery
Jl. Tamblingan 47, Sanur
Tel: (0361) 288181

I Wayan Juniartha