Have you ever seen a piece of fine art that you just had to have, but couldn’t afford the hefty price tag? If you’re an art lover, chances are that you will have dreamt of owning a famous piece of artwork by one of the great masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh or Pablo Picasso. even if you had millions of dollars, many of these are the properties of national museums and cannot be privately owned, and as such, you will not be able to showcase the original Mona Lisa, Last Supper, Starry Night or Blue Room in your living room. Opting for a copy, however, could be the solution, at least you’ll be able to admire it every day without having to commute to Paris, Milan or New York City…
Text: Rachel Love
Only God creates. The rest of us just copy – Michaelangelo
It would seem that everybody in Bali is an artist. Many of these craftsmen exercise their talents knowing that no one will care to record their names for posterity. Numerous paintings, carvings and sculptures are produced collaboratively – and therefore anonymously – in village workshops, where a master artisan supervises a group of apprentices and art becomes an expression of collective thought. Balinese artists of old never signed their work, and they were always proud if their students copied their creations because to have one’s work imitated meant that one had attained the honoured status of a guru. Thus artistic ownership cannot exist in the communal Balinese culture; if an artist invents or copies something that might sell, soon all of the others will be reproducing it. With no traditional concept of an artist as an individual, the Western notion of the importance of originality in art doesn’t make much sense to the Balinese craftsmen, which in turn has allowed them to be unabashed and uncanny copyists.
Reproduction of art is nothing new and has a history as long as art itself. Vincent van Gogh copied 21 paintings of Jean Francois Millet, and it’s probably safe to say that the paintings of the ‘copyist’ are worth a lot more than those of the artist he copied.
Actually, to paint from the Old Masters is a long-standing and venerable tradition. Like generations of painters before them, artists from around the globe travel to Paris to copy the masterpieces at the Louvre. Ever since the museum opened its treasures to public view in 1793, it has allowed, even encouraged, artists to hone their skills by copying the masterpieces in its collections. Thousands have done so, including great classical painters from Turner to Ingres, Impressionists from Manet to Degas, and Modernists such as Chagall and Giacometti. “You have to copy and recopy the masters,” Degas insisted, “and it’s only after having proved oneself as a good copyist that you can reasonably try to do a still life of a radish.”
Back in Bali, the once all-important sponsorship of art by the local aristocratic families has all but ceased, and no longer is art produced simply out of service to the community or the deities. Now it’s created for its own sake or purely to make money. In order to earn a living, many artists have had to sacrifice quality. Working in rows at ‘paint factories’, they knock out dozens of paintings per day. Nowhere do we see the names of the artists who make their living from copying paintings. Not including their names keeps them anonymously toiling behind the scenes of the art world system.
The quality varies greatly and what we find in Bali’s markets and art shops is a mix of mass production and original artwork, with a number of different factors that will determine the price. These are the colourful paintings that adorn the walls of many of the island’s villas and hotels, and it’s not surprising that visitors are buying art to take home. A masterly hand-painted Balinese landscape or a captivating image of a Balinese dancer, a cheerful copy of a frangipani blossom or an abstract decorative wall panel can be considerably less expensive than a print. If you scour the art shops at Kumbasari market in Denpasar you’ll find the whole gamut of subjects, styles and standards at prices that range from $25 to $2,500. If it speaks to you, buy it. Isolated from all of the other paintings in the shop, and mounted on your wall, it may well become a much-admired conversation piece. Another option is to commission a painting. It doesn’t have to be a classic or an old master, just a copy of a painting that you love.
Ade Rizqi is a Javanese artist who has been living in Bali since 2000. His father and his two brothers are also artists and it was his father who taught him to draw and paint. For a while the family had an art shop in Kerobokan and Ade successfully made a lot of contacts and established himself as a good copy artist, regularly taking orders for commissioned work. He now operates from his home-studio in Denpasar and has a long list of satisfied repeat customers, many of whom own villas and hotels in Bali. He paints beautiful, high quality, acrylic or oil renditions of the artwork that his clients bring to him. A print or an internet link is sufficient for his needs, and it takes him about a week to produce it. The images accompanying this article are all paintings that Ade has produced.
Ade Rizqi can be contacted on +6281 735 3978 or firstname.lastname@example.org