Ketut Madra, painter of Balinese legend

Ketut Madra in April 2013 inking a detail of a Mahabharata painting

Ketut Madra in April 2013 inking a detail of a Mahabharata painting

The 2013 retrospective exhibition “Ketut Madra and 100 Years of Balinese Wayang Painting” at Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan established for the world what knowledgeable observers had long known: Madra is one of Bali’s most accomplished modern wayang artists.

Born in 1940, Madra received his earliest painting lessons from his older cousin Dewa Putu Sugi and the Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet. By the time he was 18 and becoming established as a young artist in the village of Peliatan, he had already focused all his attention on painting the ancient stories of Balinese mythology. It would become his life’s work.

Madra, at 33, developing the pencil sketch for a painting of “Tenung Gana”

Madra, at 33, developing the pencil sketch for a painting of “Tenung Gana”

His principal teacher was Tjokorda Oka Gambir, the 20th century Peliatan-based artist. While he initially embraced the modernist, European-influenced, Pita Maha movement of the 1930s, he later returned to painting the stories of the wayang kulit, Bali’s shadow-puppet theater and much of his work decorated the temples of Peliatan.

Madra, whose father played musical accompaniment to the wayang shadow theater, knew these stories as well as he knew his extended family. As the Puri Lukisan’s director Tjokorda Bagus Asitka wrote of his art in the introduction to the exhibition catalog: “Inspired by the stories of gods, heroes, demigods, demons and their servants, [Madra’s] paintings depict the epics of the Balinese-Hindu religion and folk tales of Bali going back more than 600 years.”

Madra’s large open studio doubles as a rehearsal and performance space.

Madra’s large open studio doubles as a rehearsal and performance space.

As Madra’s reputation grew, the audience for his work spread beyond the Balinese and Javanese buyers who first recognized his talent. Beginning in the 1970s, western visitors to Ubud also discovered and began buying his work. The 1974 exhibition “Legendary Paintings of Bali” at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum featured his paintings. Since then, Madra’s paintings have appeared in other exhibitions in Japan, England, Australia, the United States, and Indonesia, and they are in private collections in at least a dozen countries on four continents.

Madra dancing  topeng tua  at an  odalan  of Peliatan’s Pura Dalem Gde

Madra dancing topeng tua at an odalan of Peliatan’s Pura Dalem Gde

Many of Madra’s finest paintings remain in Peliatan where they grace the family temples of his neighbors and friends and the village temples of both Pengosekan, where he was born, and Peliatan, where they have now replaced faded and worn paintings of his teacher Tjokorda Oka. Several of those works appear in Sacred Paintings of Bali by Thomas Cooper. There is more information on the 2013 Museum Puri Lukisan exhibition here and many more examples of his work at KetutMadra.com. And the catalog for the exhibition can be ordered here.

Ketut Madra Homestay and Gallery

Especially popular with individuals and small groups studying aspects of Balinese culture – painting, music, dance, mask- and puppet-making and much more – the homestay, which includes two cottages with kitchen facilities, has a space for teaching, rehearsal, and practice. 

Madra in 2015 playing  rebab  with Peliatan’s renowned Tirta Sari gamelan

Madra in 2015 playing rebab with Peliatan’s renowned Tirta Sari gamelan

Madra’s son, Made Berata, who, with his wife Komang, has run the homestay for the past four years, connects guests to teachers as needed. He is developing plans for the gallery, which houses his father’s and his work, to include work by other Balinese artists working in the wayang tradition.

There is more information at Ketut Madra Homestay, and reservations for the first few days can also be made at booking.com.