Wiranata: Master Of Light
Published 06 January 2011
Balinese artist, I Gusti Agung Wiranata captures the transitory effects of tropical light to recreate the mysterious dreamy mood of a Balinese landscape at the end of a day.
By Rachel Love
Wandering through Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan one afternoon, I found myself mesmerised by two atmospheric paintings depicting the agricultural landscapes of Bali. One was a giant’s stairway of rice fields cascading down to a river valley, the other a farmer and his son hunting for eels in the flooded paddies. Common to both paintings were the silhouettes and contrasts against the fading light, the cool shadows, and the sky mirrored in mother-of-pearl and turquoise across the watery surfaces of the sinuous terraces. It was the dynamic quality of the light that struck me the most, reminiscent of the work of Walter Spies. Curious, I looked for the name of the artist, thinking that maybe he was one of Bali’s late greats. To my delight I learned that Gusti Agung Wiranata is a living, working artist, residing in the village of Kapal near Mengwi.
I visited Wiranata at his home and studio. Like many Balinese artists his talent is inherent, he comes from a family of painters, his father was one, and now his sister and his brother are also painters. Wiranata told me, “I always loved painting and I used to sketch on every wall. My father died when I was only 11 years old, and after I finished high school, my uncle Ngurah KK, who is also an artist living in Campuhan, visited my home and noticed that I was studying art on my own. He then invited me to go to Ubud to his home and study with him. So I lived there with some other painters including my brother-in-law and most of them worked in the old-school traditional Balinese style.”
Agung Wiranata, however, was drawn to the work of Walter Spies. In the 1920s and ’30s, Spies and other foreign artists inspired the Balinese to venture down new roads of artistic expression. It was Walter Spies who introduced the Balinese to the idea of painting everyday life, and the result was an explosion of highly individualist artwork, which that led to the birth of the modern-traditional style of Balinese painting. This liberating revolution was embraced, especially by Ubud painters, with courage and enthusiasm.
While living with his uncle, Wiranata found a copy of the biography ‘Walter Spies and Balinese Art’ by Hans Rhodius, and in it he saw a mix of old style Balinese painting and modern-traditional painting. He recalled, “Even the book’s black & white photos of Walter Spies’ paintings displayed that wonderful light.” The young artist studied from the book and, using acrylic on paper, started painting his own landscapes and scenes of everyday Balinese village life. In 1994, when he was still only in his early twenties, one of these paintings was selected for the permanent collection at Museum Puri Lukisan. Meanwhile Wiranata wanted to create much bigger paintings, so he moved from small sheets of paper onto large canvases and started to work with oils. He was further honoured when one of his oil paintings was given to the Puri Lukisan Museum by an art collector, for permanent exhibition, in 1999.
Wiranata paints real life rural scenes from memory, capturing the light with his imagination. His magical-realism style, his stick-like figures of people and animals, and his strict sense of composition is imbued with rhythm, expression, ethereal qualities and a sense of inner life, while his technique is full of bravura, without a hint of self-consciousness.
Some of his paintings record events such as a ceremony, a storm at sea, or the catastrophic eruption of Gunung Agung. The shifting moods of the sea, the rain, the wind, and the clouds when the sun is low in the sky show the fleeting moments of the changes of light. Wiranata’s genius is in his ability to master this light to expose depth, form and atmosphere. Coolness is emphasised with shades of blue and purple in the shadows, while the sun-filled passages are warmed with tones of orange and yellow, generating a complementary effect that perfectly encapsulates the time of day.
He explained, “I position my mind’s eye below the scene and look up to a waterfall or rice terrace, I contrast dark colours with light, and I portray the villages, the houses, the people, and their clothing in the way that it used to be in order to keep the picture traditional.” It takes Wiranata three or four months to complete a painting, “The oil takes a long time to dry, and each layer of paint must be dry before I can move onto the next stage, so I am always working on several paintings at any one time.” He never sketches the images, he doesn’t need to. Instead, he just paints directly onto the naked white canvas with his brush. The detail, each individual leaf, for example, in the foreground, is meticulous, while the back light – the toughest light challenge of all – is brilliantly executed to bring the magic hour to life. It is this mastery of light that separates extraordinary artists from ordinary ones.
I Gusti Agung Wiranata
Tel: +62 361 780 4724