Made Budhiana, one of Bali's senior contemporary painters, is unique in several regards. As yet, no other Balinese painter has been able to match the strength of his lines which make his paintings, drawings and sketches so captivating. It is likely that the spirited nature of his work derives from the fact that, unlike many of the island's painters who seek inspiration in solitude, he frequently opts to work in settings bustling with activity.
Beauty is simple. According to Made Budhiana, beauty is even mundane. It is scattered all around us. For that reason, argues the painter, every person has the capacity to appreciate art, and the various forms of beauty contained within it. While acknowledging the widespread assumption that art, particularly abstract art, is exclusive, Budhiana believes that people are not so stupid that they have to be a critic or collector to appreciate it. "It's just a matter of raising awareness. As well as painting, painters have a responsibility to urge public appreciation of their work by sharing their creative experiences with society at large. In this way, they can demonstrate the relation between art, the creative process and ultimately, the human condition," he asserts.
This is something the 39-year old painter has been attempting to do for some time. Almost daily, his studio hosts groups of young painters who come to seek Budhiana's artistic wisdom. But in a society where teachers tend to be all-authoritative and students attentive and obedient, Budhiana is far from a typical Indonesian guru. In his classes, the learning process is multi-dimensional. Heated discussions about art take place amongst the participants, some of whom strum guitars or bang makeshift bongos, serenading the paintbrush-wielders while they work. Moreover, most students come empty-handed. As an attempt to encourage young, needy painters to find out about his alternative methods of art education, Budhiana supplies the paint, paper and brushes needed for his classes.
When studying at Yogyakarta's prestigious art and design school, ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia - Indonesian School of Arts) Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta between 1979 and 1987, Budhiana's work centered on sacred Hindu symbols. One of these symbols, the rerajahan, was particularly prominent in Budhiana's early works, but he depicted it quite differently to how it usually appeared on lontar, the palm-leaves on which sacred Balinese texts are inscribed. The inspirational value the symbol held for Budhiana was not in its religious content but rather in the way its very aesthetic prompted the painter to contemplate his inner self. Budhiana's obsession with the rerajahan symbol bore scores of paintings, variously-sized but all displaying a use of dark colors with the rerajahan symbol emerging in the few empty spaces left on his then typically crowded canvases. Works of this period had titles like 'Flying Rajah', 'Rerajahan', 'Three Rajahs', 'Battle Rajah'.
Budhiana's loyalty to the symbol of rerajahan did not go unrewarded. Twice in a row, in 1985 and 1986, he won the prestigious Pratisara Affandi Adhikarya award, and both times for different rerajahan pieces. Yogyakarta's major daily, Kedaulatan Rakyat, commented on his victory thus: "Budhiana's rerajahan draws on a magical Balinese image which, to this day, is used to ward off catastrophe. Traditionally, it is a decorative image, but in Budhiana's paintings it becomes uniquely expressive."
In the latter part of the eighties, Budhiana finished his studies at ISI and gradually began to move away from the rerajahan symbol. As he did so and began to experiment with other styles, symbols, colours and compositions, he came to realise how close beauty is to all of us, how simple it is and how mundane. Another way of saying it would be that Budhiana became convinced that 'everything is beautiful in its own way'.
Since returning to Bali, Budhiana has spent much of his time traveling around the island. The places he most frequently visits are those that bring him closest to nature which, he confesses, he considers his Almighty Teacher. What he has learned from nature is that the abstract paintings exhibited in so many of the island's galleries are simply depicting images which are already present in nature itself. "Nature provides its own abstract forms," he says.
After freeing himself from the rerajahan
theme, Budhiana's works have become increasingly diverse, as he has allowed
himself to let his imagination go wild. Here is a painter who can readily
capture whatever is around him at a given moment. He doesn't need to await
a certain time of day, or to be in a certain space to paint, as do many
other painters. For Budhiana, beauty shows itself at all times and in all
places. That is why it is not uncommon for him to paint in busy places
with lots of people milling around, such as at the market, on the beach,
on the streets of the city or in a temple. "I respond to all kinds of situations
and that is part of my creative process, which is kind of theatrical in
nature," explains Budhiana during one of his outdoor painting sessions
on the beach at Amed.
Many of Budhiana's post-rerajahan works are experiments in composition and colour, and evidence an eagerness to overturn long-established techniques. Budhiana describes his own technique as 'non-technique', meaning that he paints in ways no other painter does, and it is perhaps this 'non-technique' that is responsible for the unpredictable nature of his pieces. But this is not to suggest that they are absent or certain qualities which are ever-present, such as his outstanding drawing and sketching skills. If Budhiana has any trade mark at all, it is most certainly the spirited strokes and lines that derive from those skills.
Since returning to Bali from Yogyakarta in 1987, Budhiana has completed hundreds of sketches and drawings. Some of them abstract, others more impressionistic in style, all nonetheless evidence Budhiana's steady strokes, as do most of the paintings that he has produced over the past decade.
Although Budhiana puts much of his artistic energies into his lines, he is in no way artistically imprisoned or locked into a particular style. Ever eager to experiment, his pieces may include anything from tissue paper, cigarette cartons, sandals, pieces of plastic, to branches and twigs. His use of colour, too, is never dull. In 'Upacara Alam' (Ritual of Nature) or 'Penjaga Alam' (Nature's Guardian), for example, almost all his experiments are with colour, sometimes to the extent that the pieces appear somewhat cosmetic or affected. It is difficult to pin Budhiana's use of colour down to a certain style or mood. In some pieces he sweeps the canvas in colors that suggest joy. Other pieces depict an emotional darkness. 'Emosi Kelam' (Dark Mood) for example, depicts Budhiana's mood on visiting the 1998 Matahati Sketch and Drawing Exhibition in Denpasar's Art Centre. In it, Budhiana blankets objects in black to show his anger at the current state of Bali's art scene, which he believes is plagued with poor quality curatorship.
Many of Budhiana's works depict his mood at the time he is working on that particular piece. Anger, sadness, depression, joy, clarity are sentiments clearly evident in the lines, colour and composition of his pieces. Moreover, his style is completely unpredictable. Sometimes he may leave little of the space untouched, and sometimes he will come up with a piece that, although sparsely composed, is altogether captivating, particularly for the great strength of spirit reflected in its lines. In fact, so absorbing are Budhiana's lines that art critic Taufik Rahzen has dubbed him Mr. Divine Lines.
Budhiana is certainly one of Bali's most successful of the 'senior' contemporary painters. Not only is he popular among the Bali-based connoisseurs, but among foreigners too, many of whom have purchased his works. As well as participating in countless exhibitions all over Indonesia, Budhiana's works have also been shown in Japan, Singapore, Australia and Switzerland, and he is currently in the process of preparing for an exhibition in Germany.
Judging from the ease with which Budhiana bores of a particular stylistic endeavor, and his well-developed ideas about art and painting, it would be difficult, it seems, to pin Budhiana to a certain theme. Moreover, while painting Budhiana tends to explore and experiment with great freedom, thus signaling his hesitance to following well-trodden artistic paths. To him, all kinds of reality contain potential beauty - that is why he lets his imagination dance every day. Maybe this is the theme that guides his artistic journey.
(Bali Echo Magazine No.39/VIII-Feb/Mar/99)