Did you ever sleep easier because your room was guarded by a winged lion perched upon the lintel? In Bali, it happens. Mythological beasts are very much at home in the traditional architecture of the island. Were you to walk into a Balinese palace of bygone days, from the crossbeam would gaze a Garuda bird, on its back would ride the god Vishnu, near the corner would stand a fantastic demon clasping the kris of the king, and in the temple shrine of the royal family would rest two majestic deities covered with gold leaf.

In the olden days, no building of importance was complete without its share of splendid woodcarvings. They appeared in relief on the doors, pedestals and beams of temple shrines and royal pavilions. As free-standing statues, the carvings served as protective figures for the household, or as sacred figurines of divinities honored during ritual ceremonies. Their sources of inspiration were the valiant heroes, beasts of magic, and ghoulish villains immortalized in myths and fairy tales. In style, they were traditional Balinese beautifully carved in robust, volumetric proportions, dressed in classical attire and set in strong angular postures similar to the ceremonial stone statues in temple art.

Carvers of old also whittled minute figures from wood, bone and horn as bottle-stoppers or the hilts of betef-nut pounders. Carvings of insects, frogs, birds and clever portraits of village folk and noblemen reflected a playful folk art which paralleled the more formal decorative style. But though the carvings of the past were expressive inventions showing exceptional skill, they always served a definite utilitarian purpose. Furthermore, all the carvings were meant to be painted in bright colors, lacquer and gold. Only in exceptional cases was the wood left in its original state.

In the 1930s, a dramatic change placed woodcarving in a new perspective. Rather than a decorative craft for enriching the decor of temples, palaces and household objects, woodcarving became an independent art form. Visitors to Bali presented a new market for carvers who had never thought to sell their work before. Woodcarvings for sale suddenly appeared on street corners, in market places, harbors, airports and even in shops in countries far distant from Bali.

Competition encouraged carvers to experiment. From large mythological statues came smaller figures of ordinary people and animals, inspired by familiar scenes of daily life. Statuettes of women seated in prayer, girls bathing, dancers, or an ascetic old man with his dog were all new to Bali. The material used-hardwoods of teak, jackfruit and dark ebony-was left in its natural state, smoothed and polished. In striving for refinement, carvers employed a more simplified line and less adornment than the polychrome traditional scuiptures.

The most striking change in rendering form was elongating the torso of a figure. Claire Holt writes of one instance which helped encourage this new style. In 1930, German painter Walter Spies, who loved Indonesia and had settled in Bali, commissioned a carver to make him two statues from a long piece of wood. The carver returned with a single statue of a girl with a particularly lengthened torso, telling Spies that it seemed a shame to cut such a beautiful piece of wood in two. Spies was surprised at such an unusual statue, yet also very pleased, and because he had shown a keen interest in the art community of Bali, his opinion counted.

Not all craftsmen followed suit in making the smooth, attenuated forms created in Mas and Ubud. In the villages of Nyuhkuning and Peliatan, carvers liked to reproduce birds and animals in a distinctly realistic manner, accented by sharp contours and an unerring precision in modeling. In tune with the mischievous love of play among the Balinese, some of these spry creatures bore a remarkable resemblance to certain human personalities. (Certainly, one way to undercut a pompous individual is -to carve him as a pompous toad, which a few tricky carvers did.) The famous carver I Tjokot of the small village of Jati evolved a highly individual "primitive" style. His subjects were born in a visionary sphere of unworldly monsters, ghouls, spooks and enchantresses which he roughly chiseled from huge branches of wood. Often abiding by the utilitarian tradition, Tjokot would artfully design his sculptures as lamp rests, pot supports or even chairs. Today it is easy to recognize a carving in Tjokot's style because so many of them are hollowed tree stumps over one meter high. Some of his original works are preserved in the Ubud museum, and Tjokot's carvings are well worth the visit.

Ida Bagus Njana of Mas, one of the finest woodcarvers in Bali, continued from the thirties through the sixties to create extra ordinary carvings-from startling abstractions of the human body into interlacing limbs and curves, to a polished tree stump with knobbed roots, which he transfigured into a surrealistic sylvan ghost. During the fifties, when most carvers were pursuing the fashion of elongated forms, Ida Bagus Njana swung to the opposite extreme by making fat, bulky statues of dozing women. His modeling was superb-only slightly indented lines skimmed the surface of his carvings, letting the waving grain of wood enhance the flow of movement and texturing of form. For decades Ida Bagus Njana's work commanded the prices on the international market. A few of his carvings are still in display in the Ubud Museum and in Mas at the gallery of his son, Ida Bagus Tilem, who is himself, an exceptionally gifted carver.

Like painting, contemporary, woodcarving flourishes in a variety of unusual styles. Mas remains the center of extremely stylized f1gores, made from glossy ebony and teak. Incredible themes and compositions and dramatic distortions of the body lend these figures a Mood of exoticism and fantasy. Schools of woodcarvers in mountain villages near Ubud fashion crude, primitive figures which recall the mysterious power of magic art in ancient , Batuan produces statues of boys (mostly young musicians) with round torsos I and truncated limbs. And in Denpasar, large workshops are booming in a near-mass production of both smooth unadorned statues and finely detailed miniatures of fantastic, which are sold in galleries throughout the island.

As has usually been the case in Bali, there remain only a few master carvers who produce original work and a host of craftsmen who labor within the set conventions of an established style. Unfortunately in recent years, the art of woodcarving has been increasingly directed to a commercial market, and the desire to experiment has given way to making stereotype statues that sell. Yet although the majority of today's carvings are patterned after a recognizable design, it is easy to overlook their merit. In each style are traits characteristically Balinese-the precision of fine craftsmanship, a strong feeling for nature, a free passage into the world of the imaginary, and most apparent, a love for the material the richness and beauty of wood.

Because Bali is entering a new era of prosperity, more and more carvers are given the chance to express their talents and to gain the training needed to become master carvers. Bali's artists are extremely skillful at their trade. Even more typical, they approach their work with delightful nonchalance. Seldom is there exaggerated pride in being among the elite of artists. Nor is a new technique carefully guarded in secret. A carver is naturally generous with his ideas. Instead of clinging to his inventions, he immediately teaches his style to his sons or assistants. It is no wonder that Tjokot's entire village is now engaged in producing carvings in his style, or that Ida Bagus Tilem creates pieces as splendid as those of his father. Like everything in the community, works of art are shared and admired by all-friends, family and village. The appreciation an artist receives from his close acquaintances is his true encouragement. Besides, everyone knows you can't keep a secret long in Bali.

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