Who Is Lempad and Do We Really Need To Know Who He Is? 

Submitted by mumunmumun on 25 August 2019   •  Destination   •  Bali

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Firsta, our fellow blogger friend and trip organizer, says I have the knack of creating conflict. She might be right, though I don’t do it on purpose nor from bad intentions. A more recent realization occurred when I was at the Lempad exhibition “Darkness is White” by Purnati Indonesia in Salihara, Jakarta. I stirred the pot when I sat down with members of the exhibition committee and a young fellow working for the arts. Realizing he was their target market and the committee needed to hear it directly, I asked him ‘Is Lempad’s existence important for common knowledge?’ He bluntly said, ‘No!’ I felt the ground beneath me shook.

Lempad exhibition on screen
A borrowed frame from Diyan.

If you didn’t know who Lempad is, as I did, you might have the same answer. But the real question would be, should you know who he is?

Personally, I didn’t know much about him to start with, aside to what I have been told by a friend in the committee which we shall name Ms. Rice Sack. From her, I learned some of the important highlights of his career.

Offerings were compulsory for the exhibition. So ,who is Lempad?

Who is Lempad? 

So, Lempad is known to be a maestro in elevating traditional Balinese art, inspired by the philosophy of Bali Hindu. His work shows simplicity and loyalty to the Tri Datu philosophy (using only black, white, and red) and it is said, to save time, the red in his paintings are seldom from his own blood. In that sense, his DNA is spread out there somewhere and we can clone him one day. Seldom does he use the godly element of gold (prada). His work is simple and is one of the very few, if not only, Balinese artists with many negative space (which I’ve come to learn, means having unfilled space in his drawings). He is also a artist with several unique styles, but each distinct on its own.

He was [one of] the Ubud palace’s patron artist(s). As an undagi or architect for the palace, his job was to create art for the palace. In addition, he was also a dancer and sculpture artist. So unlike other modern artists, his art was a form of ngayah or a task for one’s beliefs. His pieces are more likely to be a form of art for the Gods, rather for his own mere pleasure and needs. Hence, much of his early works isn’t for public viewing.

Lempad exhibition: a scene featuring witches and demons
Vira’s favorit piece from the Lempad exhibiton. A painting featuring witches and demons.


It wasn’t until Walter Spies handing him his first Chinese ink and drawing tools that he became an artist on paper and unnecessary for ngayah. Apparently, his years of creating art for the palace transformed on paper in the form of confident lines. Because Walter Spies saw something in his work, he encouraged Lempad to create art on paper, which Spies then introduced to the world through Pita Maha, a prominent art organization at the time.

Lempad’s work was allegedly one of the few, if not the face, of Balinese art as we know today. Thus he was one of the most important and influential figures to put Bali on the map as a land of exotic culture and beautiful art. His art is found in museums all of over the world naming the Museum of Sweden, in the collection of American Museum of Natural History, U.S. Library of Congress, Weltmuseum Wien in Austria, Nationaal Museum van Werelculturen in the Netherlands, and Danmuseet in Sweden, and hung in museums such as Tropen in Amsterdam and Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden.

However, because his work is undetected among the Indonesians in general he wasn’t acknowledged as an Indonesian artist. So no matter how important he may be to the country, many Indonesians fail to recognize him and his work.

It was said that this piece was feared to stir controversy. It’s a picture of a fight.


Lempad Exhibition

Ms. Rice Sack says he never failed to make a line. I didn’t really understand the true meaning of ‘master of the line’, despite I’ve seen pictures of his work. It wasn’t until I saw the exhibition that I slowly understand the power of the stroke of his hand. His lines were so clean and confident, like it was drawn on a computer.

My untrained eyes failed to see him hesitate in pulling a line. To be able to make paintings as clean as he did, I would imagine he already had everything in his head. In the process there would be little room for mistakes. My favorit art at the Lempad Exhibition in Salihara was ‘daily market life’, the only one of the 10 art works displayed which he drew with a pencil. Even with a pencil, a medium he can erase at any time, his lines were pulled with conviction. I enjoyed his take on Balinese daily life; very real, no fluff, and still had a Balinese feel to it.

Daily market life by Lempad
Daily market life by Lempad

Lempad and Bali Tourism 

Reverting to the initial question, is it necessary to acknowledge Lempad? In the context of travel, Lempad is one of the many forces that has drawn mass to Bali, artists to be specific. With Pita Maha, a reknown artist collective from Bali at the time, Lempad might be the driving force of it all. Before there were Le Mayeur or Antonio Blanco, Julia Roberts with ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, or images from Murad Osmann or Do You Travel, there was Lempad, a man that only truly sought the ‘like’ of his gods through his art. So, yes, I put his name amongst, if not the center, of the influencer cloud of Bali Tourism, and a name to be recognized.

Admittedly, this blog post is sketchy with a little background research about a figure truly extraordinary. I still need more reading. However, I felt like posting a cloud of notes after visiting the Lempad exhibition in Salihara, South Jakarta.

By the way, here is a documenter video on Lempad available on Youtube.


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1 year ago

This is one exhibition I regret for not attending. I remember some of the videos you posted on your social media account depicting some of Lempad’s work unveiled slowly in the form of light in a dark room. I know that was a modern touch, but without the artist’s timeless masterpieces it would have not had the same effect, I believe.