Art of Reflection. Butterfly Mandalas, Smoking Pigs and Laughing Faces.
The Art of Reflection. Earlier last week, I visited the home of artist Dewa Tresna Nadi, along with my colleague Dewa Artha. One of the things that I chanced to ask myself throughout our conversation was,
‘What defines one as an artist do you think? Being able to live financially completely from your art? or driving an Uber or Grab in order to support your art?’Tweet
One way or another, I find that people have a set notion about who is an ‘artist’ and who is not. I find it even more peculiar that they have assigned themselves as the authority to define the measure of ‘success’ of other people’s creative expression.
There is however a common (yet hidden) perception that if there is no money in it, there is no success or value in it. Perhaps this is is the most disruptive thinking, it certainly does not leave room to value anything other than the pay check . I can argue that if that was the case, suddenly,.. there are no artists in Bali at all, because for the past two years no one has been making hardly any money from much at all. The brakes that came screeching to the economy here was not gentle.
Though I digress a little, it is still very much at heart with the point of this post. Meeting Dewa Putu Tresna Nadi, affirmed my own feelings on this subject. When an artist is struggling to make ends meet, it does not change the fact that he is an artist. He still carries on and does his work and cannot stay away from it too long, because that is who he is.
Many artists have stopped painting in Bali. Long before there was a pandemic, the artists of Bali have receded in numbers. Many have been drawn to the flourishing industries of hospitality and tourism. However, the economic fallout from Covid has forced even more artists and artisans to work in other fields. Dewa Tresna is also one such artist. Who is now driving the equivalent of an Uber to meet financial demands. In his case, he never stopped painting. Whether there are jobs or not, orders or not, covid or not Dewa has his own relationship to his painting. I don’t believe he can stay away from it for long and not feel uneasy.
Conversation with Dewa Tresna Nadi
How did you learn to paint?
Growing up in Pengosekan Ubud, this is a painting village. Influenced by my environment to learn painting. My uncle from my Father’s side is a painter. From a young age I was already exposed to the world of painting. When I started, I was immediately drawn to art and painting. When I first began, I was taught the principles of traditional painting. The method is what I learned. Without any explanation on its history or theory of the art. I continued until even the end of high school, to continue to study art. Thats where I learned modern art. I chose modern art because I had mastered the traditional method from my family teachings.
Which do you enjoy more, traditional or modern method?
You can say that Modern style is more free, you can make the process simple. Traditional method has more rules. More order. I enjoy traditional method more, maybe because it feels safer. Why is it safer? that is hard to explain. Maybe from the touch of the bamboo brush and the way that we mix ink on our own hands. The process is very tactile, you really are one with the process. There is no rush and is quite meditative. I enjoy nyawi the most (note:This is the part of the traditional process that places all the outlines of the composition with Indian ink via bamboo brush). When you have finished with ‘nyawi’ you can already see what it will be. What your painting will become.
What do you think about the condition of art in Bali presently?
Actually, what I feel now is the value of art has decreased , seventy five percent is all commercial. Even I am sometimes influenced when making a painting with the idea of what is trending and what will sell more easily. One thing from the COVID pandemic effect, painting more as a result. So that’s a good thing. Between driving and art of course I enjoy painting more, but I get paid more driving.
Dewa Tresna Nadi through his art..
Since our first meeting, we have had other conversations. I must say I find Dewa Tresna’s quietude one that inadvertently disguises a self deprecating, insightful humour. A gentle strength and a mind that does not yearn solitude but is equally comfortable with it. Some of the remaining pieces of Dewa Tresna’s recent works were out and about in his studio. I asked permission to photograph the present pieces and share them with you.
Lazy Pig, 2015
Acrylic on canvas, 2m x .8m
The art of self criticism. Dewa Tresna Nadi’s circling thoughts on quitting smoking is what led to this piece. I wondered why a pig? Apparently, it is quite common in colloquial Bali when someone perceived to be behaving stupidly they are chastised as being ‘like a pig’. The stupidity of the pig is the general consensus . Dewa has had it in his mind to quit smoking for some time but is still smoking even now. This makes him laugh at his own stupidity. It is the price of cigarettes that is the primary motivation for wanting to quit. However, he says he is still smoking that is why he thinks ‘that is stupid’.
Pigs & Masks, 2015
Acrylic on canvas, 2m x .8m
The masks represent the opinions and perceptions of others. It shows that the masks view others as pigs. There are many faces. Unpredictable faces that hide the true faces behind them. The faces that you see are not honest expressions but social veneers that enjoy judging others.
This painting is a social commentary. In particular, the social pretensions prevalent in society. It is showing again the artists’ own sharp but quiet humour, teasing those who think they are very clever in hiding their real feelings. Those who think they can deceive others with their pretense.
‘Many people underestimate you because of money. Maybe, lifestyle is a factor, they judge my lifestyle’.Dewa Tresna Nadi
Butterfly Mandala, 2016
India Ink and Acrylic on Canvas
This is a beautiful example of Dewa’s works employing the traditional method. Even though the method is traditional, this shows a thoroughly original composition. Dewa Tresna’s inherent peace I believe is apparent here. The combination of the rich spiritual symbolism of butterflies and the Mandala combined, perhaps expresses the personal journey of self searching and discovery.
It is searching for balanceDewa Tresna Nadi
Deer Together, 2016
This painting was completed for a Fine Arts Exhibition in Camphuan Ubud. Here, through the deer, the vulnerability of people is likened to herding animals. This is what the artist was reflecting upon at the time. How they may seem at peace and quiet, but in reality they are are vulnerable and can be preyed upon.
I found it interesting that this is such a classically European aesthetic. He did explain that the first stages of this painting, he had painted the background differently. Perhaps more tropical. However, he found that it did not sit quite well with the herd of Deer and made refinements to the original composition.
An Artists’ Scope
One aspect of the practice of art in Bali, specifically Ubud, is the abundance of it. As often mentioned, it is intrinsically integrated within its culture and the many aspects of daily living. This breeds familiarity. There is a saying in English ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.. a little harsh and certainly not necessarily true. However, when you see how conditioned to seeing all forms of art here, it does result in a certain nonchalance about it.
Perhaps it is a form of ‘art inflation’, certainly made far worse by the extremely commercial nature of its overflowing success. Though, even as you go through mountains of ‘made to order’ artworks, amongst them, there are individual and remarkable talents which are indisputable. For the most part, economical and social conditions hinder the untethered development of an artists real creative journey.
From bamboo brushes to modern acrylic.. stylised lotuses to explorative expressionism
Just looking at the breadth of scope of Dewa Tresna’s works, his technical skills is obvious. When you look upon the individual pieces he has created for the sole purpose of painting, the artists’ themes and dialogues already reveal an honest depth. There is certainly beauty, in the art of reflection. Whether through his frank yet still gentle humour or reflective meditations. Remarking on the social conditions in which he finds himself in as well as exploring further his own psychology and behaviours. It will be wonderful for us to see more of Dewa Tresna’s art when free from any restrictions.
If given a choice, I asked if he would enjoy creating art only for arts’ sake again. Dewa Tresna answered with an ‘Absolute Yes!’ We hope that our meeting perhaps might serve to be the catalyst that will enable Dewa Tresna to focus back on the purity of his own creative process. I have a feeling there will be many wonderful pieces to come.
Dewa Tresna Nadi’s works will also be available as signed by artist archival giclee prints. Keep a look out in what’s new in Sawidji Gallery Store in the next week.