Lempad of Bali

GUSTI NYOMAN LEMPAD – A Brief Overview of a Long Life

Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862-1978), one of the first Balinese modernists, was a leader in Balinese art during its most revolutionary period from 1925 to 1942. He was also a traditionalist with a deep background in all aspects of Bali’s art and culture. Prior to the 1920s he was renowned as an architect of temples and palaces and and as a sculptor. In the late 1920s he began the series of line drawings that were a futuristic adaptation of stories and characters of Bali’s Hindu-Buddhist wayang pantheon.

Recognizing his young son’s artistic talent before the age of 10, Lempad’s father, a traditional Balinese architect, put the boy to work assisting him on his building projects. In his teen years, Lempad and his father sought political asylum with the royal family of Ubud, fleeing their home kingdom of Beduluh in the kingdom of Gianyar. Their timing was perfect as Puri Ubud was in the process of rebuilding, and their skills were welcome. The association continued to the end of Lempad’s long life. In his early career Lempad was widely known as a master sculptor of temple statues and friezes, a carver and painter of sacred masks, a maker of wayang shadow puppets, and an expert in the making of towers and other carved and decorated objects essential to Balinese cremation rites. 

Lempad was a leader in the creation and development of the Pita Maha artists’ collective, formed in 1936 by the king of Ubud, Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati, and European artists Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet. Pita Maha monitored the progress of the new and developing genre of Balinese modern traditional art. The western artists affiliated with the group forged new national and international markets for Balinese painting and woodcarving. 

During these years, Lempad was a major force in creating a new style of Balinese aesthetics, a style that often featured elongated and distorted figures. Adopting a new and invigorating sense of unadorned line in his compositions, he used white space to emphasize the brilliance of his figurative drawings and the balance essential to their composition. Lempad’s natural imaginative and innovative ability in expressing old stories anew, together with the strength and grace of his flowing, pure and defined lines, helped to redefine Balinese art. 

Prior to Lempad’s innovations, almost all Balinese painting was characterized by crowded compositions covering every part of the surface of the canvas with narrative information and motifs. The creativity and originality of his compositions, while strongly rooted in Bali’s traditional art and culture, were aesthetically liberating and influenced many of his peers and their followers and students. 

Lempad’s earliest drawings of the 1920s and 1930s gained much attention from the local art community and from American and European anthropologists, researchers, musicians, and artists living in Bali at the time. Over his lifetime Lempad completed a body of work that is unique in the history of Balinese art.

Lempad of Bali, the first comprehensive catalogue of the artist’s life and work, explores his accomplishments and legacy. At 424 pages with more than 500 images and reproductions of drawings from the 1930s to 1970s, it features biographical and interpretive essays by six scholars and close observers of Bali’s arts and culture: Bruce Carpenter, John Darling, Hedi Hinzler, Kaja McGowan, Adrian Vickers, and Museum Puri Lukisan curator Soemantri Widagdo.  

Other institutions participating in the book include the Library of Congress, the American Museum of Natural History, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, Leiden University, Leiden Ethnographic Museum, Delft Nusantara Museum, Vienna Ethnographic Museum, Cornell University, the Gallery of New South Wales, and Sydney University.


Bruce W. Carpenter, author and co-author of more than 20 books and scores of articles on Indonesian art, history, and antiquities, including W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp: The First European Artist in Bali.

John Darling (1946-2011), writer-co-director of “Lempad of Bali,” the classic award winning 1980 film on Gusti Nyoman Lempad and the Bali he inhabited, and eight other documentaries about Indonesia and Bali.

Hedi Hinzler, professor of Southeast Asian studies at Leiden University, author of many books and articles on Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Bali, and a senior international scholar of Bali’s history, art, and culture.

Kaja McGowan, associate professor of the history of art, archaeology and visual studies, and director of the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University and co-author of Ida Bagus Made: The Art of Devotion

Adrian Vickers, professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of Sydney, and author of Bali: A Paradise CreatedBalinese Art: Paintings and Drawings of Bali, 1800-2010, and A History of Modern Indonesia

Soemantri Widagdo, chief curator of the Museum Puri Lukisan, principal organizer of “Illuminating Line: Master Drawings of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad,” and co-author of Ida Bagus Made: The Art of Devotion

Publishers: Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, and Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali, 2014  ISBN 9789814385978

Dimensions & weight: 424 pages; 36 x 27.7 centimeters; four kilograms, not including shipping materials.