The study of the human form has always been a favorite subject for artists. Whether they be larger-than-life ancient Roman and Greek sculptures or Renaissance paintings, capturing the nuances of a person’s physique has served as both an artistic inspiration and measure of skill.
Portraiture remains as popular now as it was in the past. Among contemporary artists observing the finer points of the human body is Balinese painter Ida Bagus Putu Purwa in his solo exhibit “Imba Tubuh” (“Illustrating the Human Body”) at Dia.Lo.Gue Artspace in Kemang, South Jakarta.
At first glance, the dynamic movements of Purwa’s subjects are reminiscent of the nudes of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. But while the focus of those Italian Renaissance masters reflects that era’s confidence as well as intellectual and artistic ferment, Purwa’s treatment of the human physique is more introverted in nature.
“My work centers on body language, especially its spiritual element. Body language is more profound than words, as it cannot lie,” said Purwa, an alumni of the Indonesian College of Fine Arts in Denpasar. “As such, it is a good way to express yourself.”
Purwa’s work derives its unique character from a veritable mix of Eastern and Western techniques. On one hand, the vigorous, three-dimensional movements of his figures represent the tangible, secular influences of Western art. On the other hand, Purwa shows the spirituality behind his pictures by making subjects seemingly dissolve into the two-dimensional background often seen in Indonesian paintings.
Aside from spirituality, the technique also conveys his uniquely visceral approach to art.
“I use paintings as a form of photography for my soul. Just as a photographer captures a fleeting, significant moment in the world around him, my work captures a particularly striking mood, state of mind and internal conflict,” Purwa said of the works that make up his second Jakarta exhibition, following a first show in 2008.
“In a way, my paintings are my confidants because they can provide me with a better sense of closure compared to sharing my problems with other people. But it can be daunting. For one, I am baring my soul for all to see, which can be extreme for many viewers. But I do not care, as it is liberating to convey all those feelings.”
Among the works that convey Purwa’s internal tensions best are the sketches from his “Movement Series.”
In her catalogue accompanying the exhibition, art critic Vidhyasuri Utami described these figures as straining and striving to break free of pressures, whether they come from the past, like traditions, or contemporary challenges like urbanization and capitalism, which emerge in a changing world.
Other works, such as “Under the Full Moon” and “Golden Moon” highlight Purwa’s deft use of color to capture certain moods and feelings.
“The use of blue shades on one hand, or red and other bright colors on the other, portray my mood at the time of making the paintings,” Purwa said. “For instance, the blue shade in ‘Under the Full Moon’ portrays downcast emotions of depression and confusion, while the use of yellow and red flames in ‘Golden Moon’ symbolizes high spirits and enthusiasm.”
Even as the Balinese artist’s works are grabbing the attention of art buffs in Jakarta, he’s preparing to broaden his scope and present overseas.
“I am going to hold a joint exhibition with a Dutch artist at an avant-garde gallery in Berlin on May 3 to June 4. My works at the exhibition are done differently than those of ‘Imba Tubuh,’ as they are on paper instead of canvas,” Purwa said. “The theme of the exhibition will be ‘Fascination’ due to the experimental nature of the medium I’m using, as oil and charcoal drawings on paper have never been done before.”
Originally published by The Jakarta Globe on Apr. 25, 2013