Definitive study of Gusti Nyoman Lempad’s life and work to be launched at exhibition opening

Lempad of Bali: The Illuminating Line, is the first comprehensive and definitive examination of the life and work of internationally acclaimed Balinese artist Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Published by Museum Puri Lukisan in Ubud, Bali in collaboration with Editions Didier Millet of Singapore, the book launch will take place at the opening of the museum’s exhibition of Lempad’s drawings on 20 September. The exhibition will run through 24 November.

“The idea of this book was born in Lempad’s Ubud home only a few years after his death in conversations with his son Made Sumung,” said Bruce Carpenter, co-author and project manager. “Gusti Nyoman Lempad was a co-founder and leader of the Pita Maha artists collective that revolutionized Balinese painting in the 1930s, creating modern forms while remaining deeply grounded in Bali’s Hindu-Buddhist faith and culture.

“Lempad not only helped conceive the Museum Puri Lukisan with Rudolf Bonnet in the 1930s, he was also co-creator and designer of the finished museum which opened in 1956. He was a modest titan of Balinese modernism while remaining utterly traditional in his values.”

At 424 pages with more than 500 reproductions of Lempad’s drawings, the limited edition, large-format book is a groundbreaking work of discovery. Relatively few of the total of Lempad’s drawings have been published and most of the early originals that survive have not been seen publicly since the 1930s when they left Bali to European and American collections.

Soemantri Widagdo, chief curator of the museum, principal organizer of the exhibition, and a co-author of Lempad of Bali, said, “We knew well before 2006, the museum’s 50th anniversary year, that we must do the Lempad book and exhibition. But we also knew it would require years of research to find many of the works that left Bali 75 to 80 years ago in the years before the start of World War II.

“Our museum’s mission focuses on preserving the work of the Pita Maha artists and inspiring the artists who are the heirs of Pita Maha and will create the modern expression of Bali’s art,” Soemantri said. “Lempad died 36 years ago. Younger generations need to know his work. This remarkable artist witnessed Bali’s history over more than 100 years from pre-colonial times to the beginning of mass tourism. Yet his work is still so modern that it carries important lessons about the future of Balinese art and the depth of its roots in the island’s culture.”

Lempad Siladri

The book includes essays by six distinguished scholars of Bali. Their focus includes Lempad’s life, work, and death; his sources of inspiration; a meditation on his drawings collected by Cornell University anthropologist Claire Holt; his drawing style and technique; and the cultural and historical context of Indian and Southeast Asian Hindu-Buddhist art and religion related to his work.

Following the essays are sections or “galleries” of Lempad’s art divided by themes reflecting the depth and breadth of his interests and creativity. These range across stories from the Ramayana; other Hindu and Buddhist tales; indigenous Balinese legends and folk tales; the pulse of daily life and, by extension, his “Kamasutra” chronicling human erotic activity; ritual and religion; and dance and music. The galleries with legends and folk tales are especially noteworthy as they ‘reconstruct’ the “story cycles” of Lempad’s drawings for the first time. Each gallery is filled with dozens of Lempad drawings and sketches from museums and private collections in the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, New Zealand, Indonesia, the USA, and beyond.

Carpenter, author of 20 books on Indonesia’s art and culture, said, “Lempad was renowned in his lifetime as a towering figure in Balinese arts. In the 1920s while in his sixties, he was recognized as the pre-eminent architect and stone sculptor of temples and palaces in Ubud and throughout the Gianyar region. He then started afresh in the late 1920s and began creating this monumental series of drawings, which he continued for almost 50 years.”

In addition to Carpenter and Soemantri Widagdo, the other four contributors to Lempad of Bali are the late John Darling (1946-2011), who wrote and co-directed the acclaimed documentary “Lempad of Bali” (1980) with Lorne Blair; Hedi Hinzler, a leading Dutch authority on Balinese art, music, and culture; Kaja McGowan, Cornell University professor and co-author of Ida Bagus Made: The Art of Devotion; and Adrian Vickers, University of Sydney professor and author of many books on Bali and Indonesia, including, most recently, Balinese Art: Paintings and Drawings of Bali, 1800-2010.