Wayan Novi is a Jogjakarta-based Balinese artist who is known for his meticulously detailed pointillism paintings and sculptures that poetically tell the story of his humble village life in Angseri, Bali, where he was born. In this conversation, Novi sheds light on his journey and the many aspects of being an artist, including great insights into his life and how it relates deeply to his artistic practices. Novi is currently on show in the INFLUENCERS group exhibition curated by Marina Oeschner of Marina Design Works, organised by Alliance Française Singapour.
You grew up in Bali and then moved to Yogyakarta to study fine arts. Tell us about your first steps as an artist?
I began my studies in the fine arts when I was in high school in Sekolah Menengah Seni Rupa (SMSR SMK 1 Sukawati). After I graduated, my family urged me to go to Yogyakarta and I eventually studied in the Indonesian Art Institute of Yogyakarta (ISI Yogyakarta). Initially, I had my doubts and told my family that I would choose ISI Bali over Yogyakarta, so that I need not move out of my hometown.
I had to take a test at Yogyakarta. It was my first time visiting the city and I would have never imagined that I would grow up there. I passed the test, and when the time came for me to move to Yogyakarta, I told my father that I had planned to cancel the trip. My whole family was dismayed. What surprised me was the moment when my father prayed for me at the sanggah, and suddenly, I agreed to take the trip to Yogyakarta to start my studies. I recalled this story long after I’ve lived in Yogyakarta.
I love to paint when I was kid, and when I studied in ISI, I felt that I’ve learnt so many things from friends in different areas. Those seven years enriched my experience in painting and completed my point of view in the fine arts. Of course, the real challenge began after I graduated from ISI.
You are now based for good in Yogyakarta. What has been your latest project and what is planned for you across 2021?
I had lived in Yogyakarta for 13 years and that’s almost half of my age. I thank God that I could get through last year. I was so blessed with health and wellness. I am also thankful for the opportunities given to me this year, including the opportunity to have my third solo exhibition, Tropical Happiness, that will open on 1 July 2021, in Art Porters Gallery’s room one.
I have created nine paintings and three sculptures for this show. The techniques I used in this exhibition are quite different from my previous artworks. Initially, I had only intended to create paintings. I then had the idea to produce multi-dimensional artworks and I eventually came up with three sculptures for the show.
Above all, I hope to do better this year. I hope to make more connections and be able to share my art to a wider community.
Tell us about your creative process: what are these highly detailed landscapes composed of vast collections of dots referring to?
I chose pointillism to depict the ideas that I have in my mind. I had this realisation that the lives of human beings are like millions of dots that one cannot easily see. Those dots make us alive and make us beings. There are dots of happiness, dots of sadness and dots of hope. All of those dots make up different paintings in our lives and there’s neither a start nor an end.
Most of my paintings depict the landscape of my hometown in Bali. The dots and dashes represent the rice in paddy fields. It also represents the amount of time I had when I go gathering with my whole family. Since we live in a village in Bali, families live near one another, even in the same alley.
You can visit other households from afternoon even until midnight. You can gather, have a chat, eat, smoke and sometimes drink. Balinese kitchens are always open to everyone. If you visit Bali, you will be welcomed by the locals and they will ask you to have coffee and eat. That is one thing that I miss about my hometown which I can rarely find in Yogyakarta.
Your portrayals of sceneries are simple yet honest stories of contemporary rural existence. Does that echo some form of nostalgia related to your childhood in the quiet and peaceful village of Tabanan, Bali?
I live in Angseri village in Tabanan, Bali. This village is famous for its hot springs and most of the locals work as farmers, my parents included. I have many nostalgic stories of me growing up in the village. I loved to play with the other kids in paddy fields and farms nearby. I played hide and seek, did fishing and caught frogs. I even got naked and took a shower in a small river near the village. I helped my parents to plant chillies, flowers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. My uncle once bought a bike for me. Yet, when I was in junior high, I walked to school for 3 kilometres. It was not far, because I took shortcuts through farms and fields, and took crops of other farmer’s fields. Well, that was the usual thing we did as kids, I supposed.
My artworks help me to recall these childhood memories. They remind me of the mountains I always see, the sanggah where I used to pray, and the traditional jugs I used in the kitchen. The memories might have become blurry, but my paintings take me back to my childhood.
A lot of your works are featured around the theme of family and daily routine (kitchen, tableware, etc). How important is your family in your life?
In Bali, we are always taught to respect the elders and ancestors. Most of our prayers are offered to them and to God, the Sang Hyang Widi. This becomes our way of life and our purpose.
Family do matter. They helped us when we were kids, when we did our first ceremony, when we get married and even when we die. I remembered my metatah ceremony. It was done when I was a teenager, and my whole family worked together the whole week to prepare the ceremony. They also helped me to prepare for my marriage ceremony last year. The preparation took two weeks. The women prepared the banten, or the offerings, while the men prepared the place, the decorations and also cook for the entire family. The kids? They were playing around and sometimes they would help their parents with the job. Do you know what excites us the most? Pork, which is a delicacy to us.
My love for my family encourages me to create artworks. It’s kind of a remembrance of what they did to help me study and live in this very city.
What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?
Honestly, I do not wish to enforce or suggest any emotions to my viewers through my works. I’m merely expressing my experiences and memories as a Balinese. People are free to interact with the artworks. They are also free to interpret the artworks however they see them. Thus, it is no longer my story, but it becomes theirs. People can come up with many interpretations when viewing my painting. The dots can represent many things. It can represent joy, happiness, or even homesickness.
When I’m painting, I always see it as a form of therapy, to train my patience, since one single artwork can take more than a month to finish. Every dot that I make is everything I’m feeling from my perspective. Hence, I cannot hope that the viewers feel exactly the same as what I feel.
What are the challenges you have faced—if any—as an artist in modern Indonesia?
I hope to share about the other cultures we have in Indonesia, too. Of course, the main subject will be about families and the way they live. I live in Yogyakarta now, and I might be infusing aspects of the Javanese culture into my paintings. It is kind of a challenge for me, since I’m forced to step out of my comfort zone. I have a dream to not only share about Bali, but the whole of Indonesia as well. I want to share with people that they have their own heritage to preserve.
As time goes on, technology takes over. Technology makes our lives easier of course, but the tradeoff is that people lose their cores of life. As artists, we need to be keen enough to see the change in an era, as well as how people respond to that change. Paintings can serve as means for people to be aware of their living spaces, the beings around them, and the times they live in. For the generations after us, paintings will remind them of how their elders lived during their era.
What is the role the artist plays in the society?
I do believe that artists play important roles in society. To be more specific, in Bali, it is important for people know the arts. All kinds of arts such as dancing, painting, and playing music. The cultures and traditions in Bali require people to have strong artistic sensibilities, as art is always involved in the making of ceremonial equipment and decorations for praying.
Both women and men do the decorations, for praying and for the buildings. The men will mainly prepare the place, while the women will do the banten, which consists of colourful flowers, combined with snacks and fruits. One has to make the best offerings for it to be offered to the ancestors.
In general, artists are one of the few agents whose role is to share culture and heritage with the wider society. Paintings are also a form of social criticism of a certain time and place in history. The work of artists is made more convenient nowadays with the help of social media, where artists and audiences can easily communicate and share ideas.
The five words that describe best your art?
Nature. I am stunned by the beauty that nature has blessed to my hometown, Angseri. We have mountains there which are the sources of natural hot springs. Once the hot springs stop producing water, it tells us that the mountains are active. Angseri is also near Jatiluwih, which is known for its subak, a traditional irrigation system, and it is one of UNESCO’s world heritage site.
Human beings. The Balinese hold a lot of religious and cultural ceremonies. That is the period when everyone prepares to pray for a few days. During this time we get to interact with many people from early morning until the afternoon. The ceremony preparation is full of food and beverages, like coffee, tea, tuak, and pork that comes in several dishes. When you visit a traditional village like mine, you will always be invited to drink coffee and to eat.
Growth. Angseri is blessed with fertile soil. Almost everything you plant there will grow easily. My village is one of the main sources of vegetables and flowers that are sold for ceremonies and for restaurants.
Process. Since everything that live requires process, this word fits the philosophy that I have for my paintings.
Balance. We are always taught to live in harmony with all beings. We need to respect others, the animals, and also nature. When your world is in harmony, balance is achieved.
What can visitors expect to see from you at INFLUENCERS 2021?
You will find paintings that reflect the humble village life in Bali. The paintings depict simple everyday objects we use in the kitchen and the warmth of having a family. I’ve chosen the seemingly unimportant yet familiar objects to be the main subjects of the artworks. In addition to humble everyday objects and the landscape of Bali, my paintings also mainly depict the daily lives of my parents, family and me, especially during our free time. I hope that visitors will immerse themselves in the little Bali that I’ve depicted through the paintings.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
Everyone I meet is my mentor, and every place I visit is my school. I do not have a specific person in mind to name as my mentor. However, my parents are the first to encourage me to take on the path of being an artist. I’m glad to have really supportive parents who always had my back when I applied for high school, when I had to leave the village and when I furthered my studies in the fine arts in Yogyakarta.
In addition to humble everyday objects and the landscape of Bali, my paintings also mainly depict the daily lives of my parents, family and me, especially during our free time.
Wayan Novi’s art pieces are currently on display at Alliance Française (Singapore).
Date: 8 May to 19 June 2021
Time: Monday: closed
Tuesday to Friday: 1:00pm-7:30pm
The Gallery is opened with limited access and only groups of 2 are allowed to enter. To book a slot, please visit this website: https://www.eventbrite.sg/e/influencers-tickets-155756121753
Location: La galerie, Alliance Française de Singapour, 2nd Level
1 Sarkies Road Singapore 258130
For more information regarding this exhibition, you can visit the Alliance Française de Singapour website.