Bali has a vibe all of its own, and most people I know love it. The natural beauty of the island grabs you. And you just can’t beat the friendliness of the local people—they reach out to you with big smiles and engage you in conversation so easily. It’s no wonder that it’s a popular holiday spot with people of all ages, from everywhere.
During my recent visit there, after visiting the studio of Nenga Sujenah, I hurried to the other side of Ubud to see the work of Ida Bagus Putu Purwa. When I entered Purwa’s studio, I saw (and felt) a range of emotions.
I was excited to be surrounded by so much of his work. We sat and had coffee first, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of all of the work in the room.
There was a huge painting over the table that I nicknamed his ‘Guernica’ (sorry no picture of this one), not because of any war references, but because of its strength—there are so many figures expressing a range of emotions and feelings. And it's huge—it looked to be about 4 x 6 meters. There are many other magnificent works too, and I literally couldn’t concentrate at all when Purwa and I talked, because my eyes were darting around his studio. It’s filled to the brim with his artworks, including some small drawings that he created in 2005 when he began his current painting style.
To me, and many others, Purwa’s work is pure emotion. There's usually one figure in his paintings, a version of himself that portrays the emotions that we all feel during a given day, but are often reluctant to show. But there's no holding back in his work. When he expresses fear, it's fear that we've all known. When he expresses joy, it’s like the joy an athlete feels when she wins a gold medal. And there are other things I see in his paintings, including the tentativeness we feel when we try something new.
Purwa is best known for his paintings on a white background. He uses blue, black, brown and red acrylic paint and charcoal. The solitary figures in his work almost always look like they've just moved, or will move. There's a purity and clarity to his work, and there's never any need to ask what his paintings are about—it's all clear. This clarity is why his work has an almost universal appeal. We know what the artist is feeling because we have felt it as well.
Purwa's painting, ‘Blown Away’ is in our gallery now. It’s 160 x 180 cm and we used it on a postcard announcing our new show. Over 200 people came to the new gallery’s openings and many wanted to see this painting. I love the way the figure shows that he's ‘blown away’ by happiness. There is a lot of blank space on this canvas that seems to put the painting in context—something happened before that evoked the emotion.
One recent visitor to our gallery told me that Purwa’s work reminded him of the famous prints of American artist Robert Longo. These works were very popular more than 20 years ago and still are well-known among contemporary art collectors in Japan. (Longo had a show at the LaForet Museum in Tokyo in 1986.) It’s not clear whether Longo’s figures are dancing, shot or being pushed, but it appears an external event caused the movement in his works. Purwa’s figures and Purwa himself are on more of an internal emotional journey and his journey is one that fully embraces life.
Purwa doesn't hold back from portraying aggression or fear in some of his works. Many clients avoid these paintings and my partner Hitoshi tells me that they are scary, but Purwa and I both agree that it's important to show these paintings. It's not easy for any of us to face our own anger and fears, but when we don’t face our fears in whatever we do, we are also held back from expressing a full range of emotions.
I’ve chosen several of his paintings for our next Indonesian show, along with the works of Agus Bagul Purnomo and Irman A. Rahman.