Lempad of Bali, by Bill Dalton

A towering presence in Balinese art, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1863-1978) was the greatest Balinese artist of the 20th century. He lived a life of mythical proportions, gaining wide recognition from the local art community as well as from foreign anthropologists, researchers and artists who lived in Bali during the 1920s and 1930s, the most revolutionary period of Balinese art.

With 400-plus pages of original images and reproductions of drawings and sketches, many never before published, Lempad of Bali is the first truly comprehensive catalogue of the artist’s life and work. Of the estimated 1000 works of art that this multi-faceted genius produced in his lifetime, this mammoth book has reproduced 600 of them, about 90% of Lempad’s total output. The great artist has finally been given his full due!

Recognizing his son’s artistic talent before the age of 10, Lempad’s father Gusti Mayukan, a traditional architect, put his young son to work assisting him on his many building projects. In his teens, Lempad’s family fled their home in Blahbatuh when the father was threatened with exile. The family found political asylum with the royal family of Ubud. The timing was perfect as Puri Ubud was in the process of rebuilding, and their skills were welcomed.

Refined, humble and introverted, Lempad belonged to a class all his own. The great artist lived a long and fruitful life doing not much else but producing a body of work that has been unmatched. Still drawing at 100 years old, his life story reads like a gilded fairy tale. He lived from the age of omnipotent feudal princes to that of astronauts. Gathering his family around him in his final moments, he died a conscious death in 1978 at the age of 117.

Considered one of the first modern Balinese artists, Lempad’s greatest gift was his wild and fertile imagination. Don’t expect in Lempad an Albrecht Durer or M.C. Escher. Starting in the 1920s, Lempad attracted notice for his line drawings that were a futuristic adaptation of figures from the wayang pantheon. Though I couldn’t imagine his repulsive sharped toothed demons, fierce witches with lolling tongues, dragon-headed spirits, tortured souls with trailing intestines, giant roosters with umbrellas and animal-headed babies up on the walls of my home, they nevertheless are mesmerizing to look at. Lempad also created works depicting “happy natives” going about their daily lives - slaughtering pigs, grilling satay, weaving textiles, placing offerings, suckling infants, delousing relatives, carving doors, getting married and working rice fields - which were in high demand by Westerners who had little understanding of religious imagery.

Lempad bawang

Bali Advertiser, 4 March 2015