Balinese artist Dewa Made Sugita grew up in a family of artists. His father is a painter – but in the traditional way. Sugita wanted to be different.

Text by Rachel Love

Inspired by the Balinese philosophy of ‘Tri Hita Karana’ – which holds that happiness and prosperity can only be attained if all human beings live in balance and harmony with God, with other human beings, and with the environment – Sugita’s colourful figurative artwork captures women, nature, and the Balinese people in an era when they are changing their lifestyles from the traditional to the modern.

One of Sugita’s paintings, for example, depicts three young Balinese women, gossiping, eating dessert, and drinking red wine at a smart restaurant beside the beach. Another portrays a woman sitting on a swing, another playing a violin, while a third shows a trio of girls with flowers behind their ears sitting on the ground and styling each others’ hair.

Perhaps because of his childhood observations, Sugita’s artwork at first appears innocent and impulsive, tending towards bold colours, flat spaces and geometric shapes. Closer examination, however, introduces us to bicycles, leaves, and human figures blowing in the wind as they search for a reconnection with nature. “Leaves represent the cycles of life,’ he says, “as humans, we need trees in order to live, so I try to capture the importance of trees and leaves in human life.”

His love of nature and his despair at too much development and construction takes us to a crowded city and then to a forest where people are cycling around a lake. He explains, “This serves to remind us that cycling, playing, exercising and living close to nature, and the lifestyle it encompasses, is in danger of being lost because bicycles have now been replaced by motorcycles, and activities such as climbing trees have been substituted with video games.” Acknowledging that his 10-year-old son loves to play with technology, the artist recalls his own childhood, “As a child I was enchanted by my environment at a time when Ubud was still so beautiful and natural. My friends and I would play in a group, fly kites, and go from garden to garden; nothing was closed and locked up like it is now.”

As a child I was enchanted by my environment at a time when Ubud was still so beau tiful and natural.

Another painting shows the traditional activity of the edible bird’s nest harvesters, who balance on rattan ladders, ropes and bamboo poles attached to steep sea-cliffs – a hazardous occupation that is generally passed down from father to son. “This painting was inspired by the concept of people working in harmony,” he explains, “without complaint, in a dangerous occupation.”

One of Sugita’s icons is the elephant, and one of his paintings shows a huge elephant with a group of tiny people riding upon its back. He maintains that he chooses to paint elephants because: “The elephant is a big giant of an animal, yet it is wise and gentle and gets along well with humans, I want to show the friendship between the animal and the people riding it.” Even a self-portrait, revealing the artist’s own shadow in a mirror, has an elephant-like quality.

Sugita can’t slot his painting style into any particular art genre, but much of it is figurative expressionism combined with an element of triangularism, which evolved from his original cubist style. Working with acrylic and mixed media, he uses a textured pattern technique in which he scratches the surface and then digs deeper to expose bright layers shining through. Indeed, all of the manipulations are detectable; often starkly contrasting, each presenting variety while offering a forceful quality to the pigment.

Dewa Made Sugita was born and grew up in Padang Tegal, Ubud. He studied art at Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI) and has showcased his work at numerous exhibitions in Jakarta and Bali. In 2011, he flew over to Fribourg Switzerland for a solo exhibition at which he sold all 45 of the paintings he displayed. He has a studio-showroom on Jl Raya Sanggingan, Ubud, and exhibits more artwork for sale at Purpa Art Gallery, Jl Mertanadi 97, Kerobokan.

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