It is more than thirty years since the death of Bali’s most famous painter and sculptor I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and suddenly we have two major tomes on his life works to contend with. The first, produced and written by Spanish art-lovers Ana Gaspar and Antonio Casanovas, with essays by Ubud-based art historian Jean Couteau, is a massive 350 page compendium. It was launched last month at the Agung Rai Art Museum amidst much fanfare — both the Ubud royal family and Lempad’s family were well represented. This first Lempad book is a beautifully-designed tribute to the great artist’s range, diversity and indeed longevity. Particularly moving is Sayan-based Australian artist Jan Van Wieringen’s essay on Lempad’s death:
“The most amazing event I’ve ever witnessed in my life was the self-willed ‘change of cosmic address’ of a remarkable man, a truemensch aged 116."
Lempad with his son I Gusti Made Sumung and his family, Probably 1930s (courtesy of Lempad by Anna Gaspar et. al., 2014)
On the last day of his life, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad asked his family to wash him and dress him in his finest white garments. Afterwards, surrounded by them and a few beloved friends, he beckoned his young great-grandson towards him. Lifting the child, he kissed him on the forehead, and then returned him to his grand-daughter: this was a symbol of passage. Finally he looked everyone around him in the eye, bidding them farewell. Closing his eyes, he said in Balinese, “Please finish all that I have left undone”, and concluded his final farewell with the all-embracing Sanskrit words “Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om”. He took one deep breath — and never breathed again”.
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The second Lempad book is sponsored by the venerable Puri Lukisan Art Museum of Ubud (founded by Lempad’s patron the Ubud prince Ida Cokorda Agung Sukawati, his brother, Cokorda Gede Raka Sukawati and Dutch painters Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet in 1936) and produced by venerable art house publisher Editions Didier Millet in Singapore, with text by art historians Drs. Semantri and Bruce Carpenter the book be out by the end of the year.
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Jan van Wieringen (right) and John Darling finishing Lempad’s painting, Sayan, Bali, 1978.
I first met Lempad in 1976 with the late Australian film-maker John Darling. The old artist was already wizened figure, mostly long nails, who entertained us from his platform bed in an open pavilion in the middle of an exquisite courtyard garden. His son, the ebullient Gusti Made Sumung, John’s guru and friend, would regale us with stories of his fathers, long and productive life. My favorite stories, however, were those Sumung told of his famous clients, the Sayan-swinger set Margaret Mead, Geoffrey Bateson and musicologist, Colin McPhee.
Nyukat at Geria Kepaon, 30 June 2014
I love this photo: my old (95 yr) Bali dad has stayed on the perch long enough to have his arm measured to be used as the base for the setting out for his late wife’s soul cremation enclosure. Geria Kepaon, this morning.
The Peyadnyan rises.
Pedanda Putra Manuaba consecrates the offerings.
Dayu Gede (right) and Pedanda Istri Geria Kutat Lestari.
Preparations for Nini Geria’s Mukur (Soul Purification), Griya Kepaon, 30 June 2014
I had a legitimate excuse for not to be at the giant cremation in Klungkung, and bustling with the crowd of 1,000 photographers (Sudibya and Saputra got some amazing snaps I saw), as today all the extended family at Geria Kepaon, plus me, gathered to start building the sacred enclosure for the big ceremony in three weeks. They all built, I watched. Tomorrow a pedanda comes to do the sacred setting out (nyukat or nyikut), and then the shaved betel nut poles will rise and a payadnyan holy enclosure will be fashioned where once the courtyard garden stood. Nini was in charge of the village temples in her heyday, not so long ago, and was born into the village’s palace, so everything is being done with great gusto.
10 July 2014: To the Arts Festival at Denpasar’s Art Centre to see Puri Kaleran Mandala Peliatan’s all-male Legong Nandir Jaya Pangus
Every year the government puts on an amazing month-long festival of dance and music at the vast Arts Centre Werdi Budaya in East Denpasar. The festival draws Balinese from all walks of life to enjoy performances from all corners of Bali and Indonesia. The highlights are always the gamelan battles on the big open-air stage between the star troupes, and the ‘boutique’ classic dance performers in the smaller theatres. This year, brothers Anak Agung Bagus Mandera and Anak Agung Oka Dalem presented their revival of the old all-male Legong dance — a performance which lifted the roof off the Ayodya stage. Amongst the stars were Agung Bagus’ son Anak Agung Iswara and Dewa Irawan of Pengosekan, Bali’s answer to Beyoncé who danced the Lake Goddess (Dewi Danu) with astonishing feminine grace.
Bravo Gong Mekar Sari gamelan troupe and the Peliatan dancers, who have been stunning the dance world since their first Europe an tour in 1935!
31 July 2014: MY LATEST ‘BALI CRIME REPORT’ POSTING ON FACEBOOK: AN ENCOUNTER WITH ALIENS.
Earlier, I popped out of my compound’s south gate onto somnolent Jalan Mertasari today and, as is the custom, started casting nasturtiums at the Madurese good-time girl who some years ago started a food stall, under my beringin tree. This morning she was holding a baby which she reckoned she'd made last night. "Yeah, right" I squealed and then got into my Vespa and looked left and smiled at a perfect threesome of aussies -- blond Mum, blond Grandmum and mousey grandson ― obviously on their way to the beach. The snarls back would've frozen a nun at nine yards! 'This is a country lane', I immediately admonished them, 'we smile at passers-by'. A weak smile spread thin across Gran's sun-burned lips, I then stared down the Mum until her grimace warmed up, but there was no way the little ankle-biter ― obviously pre-warned about oversized rangas (redheads) in white frocks and mules ― was going to give an inch. This is not a one-off occurrence. I have been documenting it for years: Superbule in Mertasari are a tough bunch. It's a crime against good manners.
3 August 2014: My garden wins prestigious South Mertasari Dutch Pensioner Style Garden of the Year 2014 award from the owner of the new roast chicken shop owner, Horst Burger.
I have posted this photo and am making this up not in protest about my editors giving (above) my team two working days to get these six pages together but because we needed some blue on the page, can I have my cheque now. Actually, I would like you, my readers, to see how struggling writer's live on the island of the gods: this is the view from my afternoon writing desk where I flee to escape the administration and developer-ennui that comes with making great tropical gardens. This garden, together with the Bali Oberoi and the Taman Bebek gardens in Sayan, are the only survivors from the 1980s when I did over 200 artful natural gardens in Bali. Many have succumbed to revisionista hotel G.M.s with appalling taste, hotel owner's offspring neglect.
This photo is the result of 25 years of loving nurture by the same gardeners — Messrs Melung and Wayan Budi — and the coconut or plague that has swept Sanur and killed most of the coconut trees with the result that gardens get a lot more light. The kul-kul tower is a water tower and has big carvings by the late, great Wayan Cemul on it. The tower was inspired by a similar tower, from an old Sanur temple, in the magnificent Sanur garden of Wija and Tatie Waworuntu since made-over in the Hawaian manner by landscape legend Bill Bensley.
There is so much garden creation in Bali but very little conservation. Rudolf Bonnet's magnificent 1936 garden at the Puri Lukisan Ubud (mentioned earlier in this column) was last year ruined in the name of marketing — a Museum of marketing was slam-dunked onto its entrance parkland. Tirta Gangga, the 1940s masterwork of the last raja of Karangasem, is unrecognizable (succumbing to municipal tendencies) as is the once magnificent Taman Narmada in Balinese West Lombok (by the last Raja of Karangasem's great-Uncle).
The Balinese are still brilliant gardeners, however, and there is hope for the future.