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(9/10/2017) Bali mourns the loss of one of its most illustrious sons with the death of I Nyoman Gunarsa.
A tireless promoter of Balinese art, Gunarsa received his formal training at the Academy of Indonesian Fine Arts (ASRI) in Yogyakarta where he also later taught. His paintings form part of important private and museum collections around the globe and are also prominently featured at Museum Seni Lukis Kontemporer in Klungkung that Gunarsa founded in 1989.
Born in Klungkung on April 15, 1943, Gunarsa’s work depicts the daily life of the Balinese people or are alternatively inspired by Hindu Dharma epic. He died at Sanglah General Hospital’s intensive care unit on Sunday morning, September 10, 2017. His body is in repose at Jalan Raya Banda No.1, Takmung, Angkan, Klungkung pending the selection of an auspicious day for a cremation ceremony.
Spontaneous, lyrical and jocular described both the man and his art. His subjects can be drawn from traditional dance, Balinese music, religious ritual or the natural environment.
We recall attending an exhibition some years ago at the a Tony Raka Gallery in Ubud where Gunarsa stopped to look at a comically executed canvas by a young artist. After looking at the painting in silence for an extended period, Gunarsa began to laugh; a quiet chuckle escalating to a long burst of uncontrollable laughter that went on for minutes and brought the entire gallery to a standstill. The artist who produced the work couldn’t have been happier.
Gunarsa’s early expressionist period was heavily influenced by Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) characters. The mythical stories learned while growing up in a Balinese village launched an instinctual approach to painting that could see an entire canvas filled to artistic perfection in little more than an hour. Arms flailing before a canvas, Gunarsa was likened by some to a musical conductor, earning him the "Maestro" moniker that was his for the rest of his life. Bold strokes delivered with astounding fluidity results in works that somehow manage to blend Bali’s ancient Abu Aringgit traditions with a form that remains unfailingly contemporary.
“I paint lines like I sing; I apply colors like I dance,” explains Gunarsa.
Working in both oil and water colors, to watch Nyoman Gunarsa was akin to watching a "maestro" or, perhaps, an accomplished Balinese dancer perform. The canvas was his stage and his strokes dance movements. His paintings epitomize absolute freedom of subject, theme, color, and stroke.
Gunarsa described his method, saying: “Through my swipes of color and my unordered lines the basic element of my work, which is rhythm, is revealed.”
In the 1970s, Nyoman Gunarsa established, together with a number of Balinese artists working in Central Java, the Sangar Dewata Indonesia. The Sanggar's membership included the likes of Gunarsa, Made Wianta, Pande Supada, and Wayan Sikka. Caught between conflicting modernist and realist waves then sweeping through the Indonesian art scene, the Balinese artists gathered together in the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia worked to create their own artistic tradition that incorporated Balinese symbols and themes.
Later, in 1989, Gunarsa established the Museum Seni Lukis Kontemporer Indonesia Nyoman Gunarsa (The Nyoman Gunarsa Museum of Contemporary Art) in Yogyakarta. This was followed by the opening of the Museum Seni Lukis Klasik Bali (Bali Museum of Classical Painting) in Klungkung, Bali in 1990.
In 1998 Gunarsa suffered the first of several strokes that transformed his work and artistic vision. This period and the long convalescence was described by Gunarsa as “Moksa” – a Sanskrit term which means “release” from the reoccurring cycle of pain and death embodied in earth-bound reincarnation. His near brush with death liberated and enlightened Gunarsa, leaving a highly productive artist who worked from a spiritual plane somewhere between reality and non-reality, between dream and flight. This was a man and artists at home with his place in the universe painting happily against the beauty of nature provided by his Klungkung, East Bali home.
Nyoman Gunarsa has bid farewell to his beloved Bali and his family, hopefully, released via Moksa from the trials and tribulations of continual saṃsāra -the cycle of death and rebirth, leaving a soul now dwelling in a perfect state of emancipation, liberation, and release.