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Ketut Budi

“I want my paintings to make people happy” says Balinese artist, Ketut : “I feel happy when I’m painting and I want that feeling to be present in each and every piece of my artwork.”

Ketut’ s father worked as an ‘undagi’ – a traditional Balinese architect, and although his particular brand of architecture didn’t call for highly detailed architectural plans or technical drawings, he always had a pencil in his hand, and would always sketch his ideas on paper. This fascinated Ketut and inspired him to draw and paint from a very young age. His ambition took him to Bali’s famous college of art, Institut Seni Indonesia Denpasar, where he embraced and studied all of the genres.

Ketut’s early artwork rocked the realism theme, moving into a traditional Balinese style before dabbling in more modern, abstract realms. This led slowly to a figurative phase, typified by elongated forms and simple, serene faces, which then evolved into the compelling and humorous, cartoon-like paintings of faces that he does today. Anyone who didn’t know better would probably describe Ketut’s style as abstract portraiture, except the paintings are not portraits! The artist explains, “The faces I create are all in my imagination, they’re not real people, they’re not even inspired by real people, they’re just fictitious characters that pop out of my head.”

Each of Ketut’s highly-stylised faces achieves a unique combination of specificity and generalisation, each conveying an assumed identity hidden behind the distorted uniform features and almost mask-like expressions. 

With their cylindrical necks, elongated noses, small and hazy almond-shaped eyes and tiny pursed mouths, it would seem that the characters have all hailed from the same long-necked, big-nosed, almond-eyed, tiny-mouthed family. 

You might think that would leave the faces devoid of personality or appearing to be vacant, but Ketut will use the tilt of a head or the curve of a nose, a funky hairstyle, a scarf, a stand-up collar, or a jauntily positioned hat to convey individuality. 

Thus each one is different, with facial expressions that could be perceived as ranging from haughty to apathetic, coolly self-assured to shy. “I love to make a big nose and then I make the eyes small to provoke an aura of mystery”, says Ketut. 

Before he begins each painting, he already knows whether he wants it to be man or a woman, but the rest “depends on my mood”. Some of the heads look left and others look right, some of the faces seem weathered or lined; colours appear in clothing and headwear against solid pastel-hued backgrounds executed in shades of light blue, pink, peach, lemon and peppermint green. He uses a palette knife for texture and a pencil for definition, sometimes embellishing the finished work with diagonal pencil strokes and the occasional line of blurred letters or numbers.

When viewed together, the paintings display an openness to cultural hybridity, expressing a sense of light and ambience, and transcending the techniques that were employed to create them so that they appear to breathe the very air and atmosphere in which they were conceived.

For Ketut, the challenge is in making each one different and never knowing what face he will pull next.

Ketut’s greatest inspiration is the work of Modigliani the Italian figurative painter who worked primarily in Paris – the then-centre of the avante garde – at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the neo-expressionist paintings of the late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the work of one of Bali’s most recognised contemporary artists, Made Djirna.

“In the long-term, I don’t want to attach myself to any specific style or technique”, claims Ketut, “I want to learn, and to try, as many different methods and genres as possible”.

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