Dialog, 2000 – Nyoman Sukari
Balinese Hindu ritual is a fascinating and potent fundamental of a distinct traditional culture that, through its philosophies seeks to embrace a universal sense of harmony between all people, the environment and the divine. It incorporates a belief system that places equal emphasis on both the physical and non-physical aspects of the world and the dualistic nature of life.
In the compelling finale to the opening ceremony of Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari, 26 July 2019 at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta (TBY), Yogyakarta, a display of ceremonial ritual set a unique and electrifying atmosphere that continued throughout the evening. Ni Nyoman Aryaningsih, the widow of the late and renowned painter, accompanied by a gamelan ensemble and a traditional flute, sang the Bramara Ngisep Sari mantra. In this sacred practice, that included a special dance performance by Aryaningsih and family members, the presentation of offerings and incense, Sukari’s spirit was called to return from the heavens to the earthly plane in order to witness the exhibition.
The audience at TBY during the opening of Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari.
One hundred and thirty-eight of Sukari’s works, 50 oil paintings, 13 pen drawings on canvas, 29 watercolour and acrylics on paper, 35 pencil sketches on paper and 11 mixed media works on carton from the private collections of Dr Oei Hong Djien, Lin Che Wei, and Aryaningsih went on display at TBY. This monumental and practically designed presentation, which included a timeline of significant data and photos set over 50 meters of wall space, took Sarasvati Art Management three years to organize. It is held in conjunction with Jogja Art Weeks (JAW) – a two-month-long program of exhibitions and events conducted throughout Central Java in support of Indonesia’s leading contemporary art festival ArtJog MMXIX Common Space, open 24 July – 24 August at Jogja National Museum.
Beginning from his school days SMSR (1986-1990) until his final years of creativity in 2009, the collaboration between Sarasvati Art Management, OHD Museum, the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) art collective, and Aryaningsih, features works spanning Sukari’s entire, award-winning career. It is set out chronologically from his school years to art college at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta, the art collective Spirit ‘90 era, his career peak in 2002 – 2003, his solo exhibition in Gajah Gallery Singapore, and then the final stages of his career in 2008 – 2009.
Self-portrait, ink on paper by Nyoman Sukari
Symbolically layered with meaning, and loaded with atmospheric energy, Sukari’s paintings are a meeting point between the sekala and niskala – the physical and non-physical worlds according to the Balinese philosophies. Curated by Suwarno Wisetrotomo and Gede Arya Sucitra, lecturers at ISI Yogyakarta, where Sukari was an outstanding student, Trajectory highlights the three defining creative periods of his career.
“In considering and understanding the creativity and philosophy in Sukari’s paintings it is necessary to know who he was, where he came from, and what his social-cultural environment was. What his cultural experience was, why he painted, and what he painted,” writes Arya Sucitra in the exhibition catalogue. The seventh of nine children, born 6 July 1968 in the remote village of Ngis, Manggis, Karangasem, East Bali, Sukari grew up to become accomplished in traditional music playing gamelan, and the suling flute, as well as dancing, singing. Traditional Balinese wisdom and values were the foundations of how he lived his life within his family, community, and artistic contexts.
Nyoman Sukari at work in his Yogyakarta studio
“Sukari created works that departed from the traditional arts of his forefathers with a ‘new’ technical approach – expressionism, freeing himself from the details, yet still being able to place the mystical atmosphere within his works,” continues Arya Sucitra. “Working in Yogya, where he lived and studied from 1991 – 1995, gave him the opportunity to reread and explore the space between tradition and modernity, between the old and the new, and between those who were close to the niskala.”
A character of many contradictions Sukari had the distinction of having a sold out show at the Spirit ‘90 exhibition at Purna Budaya Yogyakarta when he was a student at ISI Yogyakarta. In a rare artistic journey, at the beginning of his career his works were priced highly, then at the end of his career, due to lack of market popularity, his works were priced low. A visionary and versatile artist, along with being a crucial art provocateur, and art community leader, during the exhibitions of the collective Spirit ‘90 in 1994 & 1995 Sukari’s paintings were partly responsible for the Indonesian art market boom beginning at the campus level. The artist chose to, however, distance himself from the chaos of the boom that continued on until 2000. At times he refused to sell his works to art collectors.
Orang Gila, 2000 – Nyoman Sukari
Highly expressive with dynamic brushstrokes, Sukari’s oil paintings are powerful insights from the darker angels of his psyche. Black and greys, golden browns, touches of white and red to achieve dramatic contrasts, his compositions are often a collision of imagery and non-descript forms. Many of his works feature menacing eyes and faces gazing out from swirling masses of energy. Immediately confronting, these works are not for the faint-hearted.
Sukari’s narratives vary from the cultural, mythological and the surreal, to his reflections upon Indonesia’s social and political upheaval during the finale of President Suharto’s New Order Regime, observations and contemplations about life, mortality, and his spirituality. Just a few of his awards include the 1993 ISI Yogyakarta best painting, the 1994 Affandi Adi Karya Art Award for best painting, and in 2000 the Lempad Prize from Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI).
Exhibition cocurator Arya Sucitra during a discussion about the watercolour paintings of Nyoman Sukari
While Trajectory’s content is dominated by darker themes Sukari’s ‘lighter’ sensibilities come to the fore within his works on paper in watercolour, ink and acrylics. His sketches and watercolours on paper and canvas have never been publically exhibited. A few small ink compositions feature minimalistic imagery that appears floating upon the white expanses of paper – here we embrace the gentler essence of the painter.
“The final years of Sukari’s career were his most contemplative and philosophical,” states Arya Sucitra. “His Niskala Drawing Series 2008 – 2009, featuring complex compositions in pen on canvas are an important aesthetic landmark emphasizing his spiritual journey while revealing an undeniable pull for him to become a holy man or priest.”
The works feature forms rendered in horizontal and vertical structures that create distinct relationships with the upper and lower supernatural worlds, along with his own magical iconography derived from the sacred rerajahan symbols, and his ideas about his spiritual responsibilities. Perhaps his finest masterpiece is Menunggu Cuaca, 2008, a stark composition depicting a fisherman waiting for fine weather so that he may return to the ocean. In this symbolic reflection upon patience, Sukari’s reveals his intuitive musings about the closing episode of his life.
Pen drawing on paper, circa 2008 – 2009 by Nyoman Sukari
Sukari passed away 12 May 2010 in Bali after battling with a two-year illness. He leaves behind an inspiring legacy underlining his commitment to his family, culture, creative life purpose and building community through the power of art. Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari, which continues through 12 August at TBY, honours one of the true, late masters of Balinese art.
Truyan Series, 2007 – Nyoman Sukari
Menunggu Cuaca, 2008 – Nyoman Sukari
Detail of watercolour composition on paper, 2007 – Nyoman Sukari
Mantan Pemburu, 2009 – Nyoman Sukari
Words & Images: Richard Horstman