Balinese Jero Mangku Priest Wayan ‘Apel’ Hendrawan
This is a story of Wayan ‘Apel’ Hendrawan: a painter, family man, tattoo artist and a Balinese Hindu priest, and his amazing battle with the forces of dark and light due to a drug overdose that saw him incarcerated in the Bangli asylum for the insane.
Every person is born into this world from cosmic origins in a mystical union of spirit and flesh. Apel’s journey is of remembering, aligned with soul purpose according to a secret agreement with the divine.
“As a baby my most prominent features were my big round cheeks, so my father, Ketut Yulig dubbed me Apel (apple) and the name has stuck ever since.” Wayan ‘Apel’ Hendrawan was born 29th May 1974 in Banjar Dangin Peken Intaran, in the seaside village of Sanur, Bali.
“I enjoyed a simple childhood. I had no inclination towards the Balinese cultural expressions of music, performance or ceremony. Yet as I developed I began to acquire an ‘appetite’ for art. Excitement grew while engaged in a process that sparked my curiosity like nothing else I had experienced in life.”
Apel occupied himself by making simple drawings of landscapes and icons from his heritage. “At times I wondered, what was the source of these images I was producing? It was like a poetic mystery, or a secret within me being revealed and each day it would slowly unfold.” None of his family members are artists, Apel’s creative expressions were driven by a powerful instinctive urge.
“During my SMP school years my artistic abilities developed and I began painting on canvas in my early teens. This was the foundation of what was to become a passion. A creative act that mirrored the true nature of life.”
Apel’s creative journey led him through a process of experimentation until he eventually found his ‘voice’. A settled more mature condition that reflected his personal state of grace. However, this was not achieved without great trial and tribulation.
Apel Hendrawan pen sketch circa 1979
Tattoos next became a passion simply due to Apel’s curiosity. “My first tattoo was an investigation to reveal whether I liked it or not. I was only 12 years old when I got this non descript image inked onto my skin. From then on my fascination grew.”
No more than a year later Apel scribed the first tattoo on his body and soon friends began to line up wanting one too. From meager beginnings emerged a talent that later would provide much sustenance for his family and see him become a successful tattoo artist.
“In my youth I lived life with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. I loved fast, loud motorbikes and dreamed of owning a Harley Davidson. I was young, foot loose and free.” Tattoo art and painting soon turned out to be a complementary mode of channeling Apel’s youthful, yet increasingly rebellious energy.
During the period between 1997-99 Apel was to encounter the most crucial years of his life. Forced to plumb the depths of his consciousness due to the destructive nature of alcohol and drugs. An overdose of amphetamines sent him spiraling into a world of confusion and a confrontation with the dualistic nature of life.
A family member committed Apel into the infamous Bangli mental hospital to undergo ‘drug rehabilitation’. The problem was, however, the people outside of the institution regarded anyone who was treated in there as orang gila – insane.
Apel was suffering from hallucinations and hearing voices inside his head. “I was undergoing both lucid moments along with the most diabolical. Some of the visions made me believe evil supernatural forces were out to destroy me. It was like I was being led through a labyrinth, my destination unknown. At times I was terrified. I was truly living on a razors edge.”
“The voices I was hearing came from two distinct sources, one of wisdom and love, the other wretched and cruel. This was my account of Rwa Bineda, and an insight into the divine creative forces of life.” (Rwa Bineda – the Balinese philosophy that describes the continuous play between opposing forces).
Painting by ‘Apel’ Hendrawan 2013
“Despite the fact that what I had to sustain during this time was both horrible, as well as enlightening, I was able to perceive this experience as a virtue. I had a strong inner knowing that I had to endure this to allow the realization of my journey from the darkness into light.”
During his internment Apel made two escape attempts. On the first he only succeeded tocircumnavigate the township of Bangli, as the bus driver who picked him up was aware of his passengers’ state. He then cleverly proceeded to drop the orang gila off from where he first came.
Apel was then confined in a higher security cell in the hospital’s basement where his condition became extreme. “I was desperate. I had no idea how to protect myself from what I was experiencing so I started to draw believing somehow this would be a solution to my plight. As images of beings from the Balinese philosophy materialized on the paper before eyes I sense they would be a form of relief.”
“The most frightening experience was an episode while I was drawing when I realized that the attack was becoming much stronger, so I tried to protect myself by drawing Nara Simha. Suddenly, the electricity in the hospital blacked out. In the darkness I was then able create light from some oil that I used for cleansing my paint brushes, and a lighter to give me vision. This,however, exploded into an inferno and parts of the hospital were destroyed. After this incident I was moved to maximum security where I was bound and tied to the bed.”
‘Apel’ Hendrawan sketch pen on paper circa 1980
“My logic perceived me as normal and only under a temporary spell. If I stayed here it was a tragic waste of my life. I though that if I returned home all my problems would quickly be solved. I became increasingly frustrated with my situation and began planning my escape again.”
Apel succeeded and returned to his home, family and wife ,yet his reality became even worse. There was a much greater obstacle he had to face. He was labeled with an enormous social stigma, and everyone believed that he was truly insane.
Misunderstood and distrusted Apel’s relationships with his family and friends declined. Finding work became impossible. “No one believed in me, and there was a giant void of love in my life. I was broken hearted. The sadness eventually became overwhelming and in desperation I attempted suicide twice.”
The purpose of all emotional pain is to awaken us out of the dreaming mind and jolt us back into conscious awareness.
The Balinese believe drawing is a sacred method of revealing an individual’s life process and purpose, as well as to explain the nature of life. And as the ancient symbols were divulged in his during process, Apel was both being healed and manifesting a step-by-step methodology to recreate his life.
‘Apel’ Hendrawan oil on canvas, 2000
“I was learning the codes of the Balinese priesthood and receiving my initiation directly from spirit. I understood this was my higher calling and my future role to fulfill in service as a priest. The sketching that began in Bangli had started my healing and renewal process.”
“My intuition was a rich source of clarity during those periods of great pain. While in my dilemma I listened to my inner voice and was led to prayer, meditation and creating rituals for regaining my health. The wisdom of the Vedic teachings became a daily custom and order was returning to my life.”
“I was equipped with the tools for my rehabilitation and fuelled by my dedication and commitment. Steadily my life was returning to a normal rhythm and my dreams and intuition confirmed the truth. I was now ready for the special initiation ceremony at Pura Wanasari, Belanjong Sanur for me to become a Jero Mangku Balinese priest.”
After this many hiderances cleared and a new chapter of Apel’s life began. All becam aligned.
“Art is the salvation of my soul and it is my personal healing process, even to this day.”
“A strong sense of community is one of the most grounding and practical fundamentals of life. It also aids me to heal. The Banjar system, my family and friends, as well as art collectives are essential to me. In 1996 I married Ni Ketut Sunarti and we now have 3 young children.”
“All that appears in physical form is maya, an illusion,” apel reveals. “The human mind is very cunning, it is a master of deception. It has the potential to see clearly, or translate multitudes of input into fantasy.” (maya – according to the Hindu philosophy, is an illusion of a limited, physical and mental reality in which our consciousness has become entangled, in a veiling of the true Self).
“Maya confirms the phenomena of the individual identity and the ego. In fact, however, we are all one and of the same source.”
‘Apel’ Hendrawan oil on canvas, 2013
“I studied art at the Bali Art and Design School and in 1995 and I went on to become one of the founders of the Himpunan Pelukus Sanur, (HPS) the Sanur Painters Association.”
Sanur has its own unique story within the context of Balinese art. After the establishment of Bali’s famous Pita Maha artists association in Ubud in 1936 three important “schools” of art began to flourish. They were known as the Ubud, the Batuan and the Sanur schools of art.
“The HPS was the catalyst to reviving the collective spirit, and hence we were the heirs to legacy of the forefathers of the Sanur “school” of art. We interacted as a group and held a few exhibitions, however without any real direction the group went into hibernation after 2003.”
From the HPS, 10 Fine Art, a dynamic art collective was born.
10FA consolidated their arrival on the Sanur art scene in 2004 by opening a gallery that was to become the epicenter for the artist community. “10FA is a more than just a meeting of 10 creative spirits to pursue our artistic passions. 10FA has evolved into a vital cooperative and support system that I can rely on during the good times and the bad.”
Apel became known for his images of beautiful women revealed in postures of celestial rapture, in which the subject’s eyes are always depicted closed. What may appear to the observer as a Goddess, to the artists , however, there is a deeper symbolic meaning.
“The eyes are the windows of the soul,” says Apel. “However I paint the eyes closed to reveal no hint of expression, or emotion. My desire is to create a sense of mystery, to imply that the subjects are dreaming, or in a meditative state. Yet in fact this is for the observer to decide.”
Perhaps the most potent illusion to beset the human mind is that of beguiling female beauty. History reveals stories of kings who have engaged in mighty confrontations to steal a woman whose splendor is so hypnotizing that their uncontrollable obsession leads them to war. The Hindu texts tells tales of Gods going into battle, utilizing all their supernatural powers to win possession of a spell-binding beauty.
Apel’s subjects seem to appear out from a swirling mass of energy. From dark or bright colors they become manifest as if born from the depths of the cosmos, or forged from volcanic fires. This movement reflects the fluidity and infinite essence of the universe continually being recreated and renewed.
“My compositions come to me freely and are an expression of daily life – a culmination of the elements that comprise the spirit, body and mind. Through my paintings is wish to express the concept of maya.”
‘Apel’ Hendrawan Tattoo Artwork
The etymological origin of the word tattoo is believed to have two major derivations; the first is from the Polynesian word ta which means to strike something, and the second is the Tahitian word tatau that means to mark something.
Apel’s physique is adorned with tattoos. His arms reveal Maori symbols representing fire and water. On his chest is the Tri Sula, the weapon of the Hindu God Siwa. The three prongs signify the relationship of Brahma, Vishnu and Siwa. His dedication to the artform has led to much success. He now owns 3 tattoo studios in Sanur, Bali: Sanur Ink, Big Rock I & II and a magnificent Harley Davidson motorbike.
Tattoos are found in many cultures around the world; in Japan traditional tattoos are called horimono, while in Taiwan the Atayal tribe call their facial tattoos ptasan, and in Borneo tribal tattoos mark physical journeys, signify important life events, and some offer protection.
“While my painting and sketching is an intuitive sensation, tattoos are much different and their application requires strict mental discipline.”
“Each client’s body and skin has its own character and demands different approaches as well. Tattoo artwork is in itself a unique artistic journey.”
Apel is a visionary artist whose works convey a universal truth. He is a priest who channels sacred symbols and paints mystical images, yet loves tattoos and powerful motorbikes. A macho biker image is a mental, ego experience, while the sensitivity of the heart allows Apel’s unswerving connection to the divine. If we analyze this relationship seems contradictory.
Yet here in Bali, a culture that celebrates both the black and the white, what may appear as in opposition is wonderful example of the dualistic nature of life.
‘Apel’ Hendrawans solo exhibition at Griya Santrian Gallery July, 2013
Words & Images: Richard Horstman