Lembongan Diary: Sunday 1 October 2023

A couple of weekends back I was pottering around the various back lanes of Lembongan on the moped, as is my wont.

Just when you think you’ve discovered every rutted track there’s yet another little path to head down and this island gives up another one of its little secrets.

Out of the blue heading down the hill towards Ceningan this ship like building rose out of the usual village breize block affairs, manicured lawn and all.  Anything modern on the island has in the main been built by exceptionally dull Australians combining, as I have mentioned previously,  NSW central coast suburbia practicality with a touch of coffee table Pacifica. So… seeing this building came as a rather pleasant surprise. 

My first thought on seeing it is that it must have been built by your usual Cologne based gallerist who had decided to escape the grey for the Gauguin lifestyle, but no, as I discovered on re-visiting yesterday it is the gallery and family compound of  Lembongan born and bred painter Komang Rai Kastawan.

I thought I’d better pop in and check out his his work as I had nothing much else to do on a very quiet sea nyepi day where activity on the island had come to a complete and grinding halt.

Baruna, god of the Sea

My first mission was to get past the very noisy but completely un-terrifying guard dog whose sleep I’d disturbed. After much barking and one failed attempt at a snarl later a just woken middle aged man with tummy and tied up locks  in board shorts and a tired grey tee flecked with paint appeared shooing away the now bored pooch. 

As soon as his semi-concious eyes spotted the bule the salesman switch turned on without a moment of hesitation and I was rushed around his gallery looking at all his latest works. A few bigger pieces for wealthy villa owner “collectors”, a selection of smaller pieces produced by the look of them at very high speed  for  pop-ins like myself. The works  if not quite pastiches are what you’d expect to find in any gallery in SE Asia, informed by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh et al,  all full of rapid splashes of bright colour to attract Australian financiers and real estate types who need to fill empty white walls in Sydney, Brisbane & Melbourne or their Bali villas with art as decoration or decoration as art, whichever way you want to look at it.

Komang’s rasta locks bunched on the side of his head  gave away the  main inspiration for his work, everybody’s current favourite dead before his time painter, Basquiat.  Actually I quite enjoyed his pair of Basquaity pieces, “Strong Man” (pictured) and “chef”, they actually capture something about life on the island that his other pieces don’t .

Fortunately, once the initial rush around his space petered out and I’d been shown the usual word salad explanation of his work blown up large and stuck on the wall closest to the front door,  he began to gradually shift out of sales patter mode and I presume more toward his real self. 

We popped downstairs to his inside outside studio where there was a giant half finished cockerel. I quizzed him gently, did he take long to complete his works and his answer was simple and really rather refreshing. 

Essentially, he’d  have a sleep, wake up have an idea of what he wanted to paint and then just do it and bang out the work as quickly as possible mainly just using a pallet knife although I did spot a few brushes in jars dotted around the place,  it didn’t look like they were used that often.  I got the impression that if he didn’t finish a piece in the same day he’d just paint over the canvas and start something new the next day having had a nice long sleep.

We discussed the cockerel and got onto the subject of cock fighting  which is the Lembongan male eqiuvalent to premier league combined with the races. I’m glad to report  the whole thing appalled him as much as it does me .

Although he was happy to have an upcoming exhibition for a Gold Coast (Qld) gallery he was quite open the he  really didn’t like the stress of having to make the 40 or so pieces needed for the Australians. I got the impression that between his wife, manager and various galleries they’ve all got him working for the mighty $ and actually he’d rather be doing a lot more sleeping and less painting. 

Something in his eyes suggested he knows that he’s sacrificing quality for quantity but it is just easier to keep everybody happy. The young man who was one of the 3 out of 50 accepted from Bali to study at art school in Yogyakarta had created the world he probably couldn’t have dreamt of as a young man but in the journey something has been lost, the more he relaxed the more obvious it became.

Over  a drink, Bintang for him and strawberry Fanta for me we could eventually get off the topic of his job and I learnt a couple more small things about my temporary home.

I asked about the island’s birdlife and was it better when he was a boy. The answer was pleasantly surprising, much better now because there is a programme to actively conserve and look after our avian friends. When he was a child it was de-rigeur for farmers to shoot anything that moved.

He was, yes, concerned how quickly his fellow and less canny islanders are flogging off their land without any real understanding of what mass tourism development means.

I fear the battle is already lost looking how much can change in months here, but there is an obviously powerful community,

I do hope community wins out over money.

Talking of which.

This evening after an afternoon spent, yet again, at 3 Island Bar i popped into the twice annual night market to mark the end of Sea Nyepi and picked up some gristly sate, mystery meat soto, very very very sweet pisang fried thingys, there’s no other way to describe them, they were thingys.

Families letting their hair down, men gambling in a half hidden structure left of the sate guys, a plastic chinese toy stall, a fabulous flashing balloon stall and i even managed to pick up that sythe i’ve been looking for at a bargain price.