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I Ketut Murtika was a painter of the Batuan school, a school of painting practiced by Brahman artists in the village of Batuan, situated ten kilometres to the south of the central hill village of Ubud.
Batuan is an important centre for traditional Balinese dance, sculpture and painting. The Western influence on painting is not as great in Batuan as in Ubud and so artists who adhere to the Batuan school paint in a more traditional manner with the depictions of human and other mythical figures having influence from the way in which wayang characters are depicted. Typically, Batuan paintings are crowded, moody and mystical; they perfectly capture the pervading atmosphere on Bali of deep spirituality in the context of a brooding, lush jungle setting. Scenes from everyday life are impregnated with monsters, witches and demons.
The major early Batuan artists were I Patera (1900-1935), I Tombos (b. 1917), Ida Bagus Togog (1913-1989), Ida Bagus Made Jatasura (1917-1946), Ida Bagus Ketut Diding (1914-1990), I Made Djata (1920-2001) and Ida Bagus Widja (1912-1992).
I Ketut Murtika was one of the major contemporary artists to work in the Batuan style. His works appear in many public and private collections. He was taught for nine years by his uncle, I.M. Djata. His works are notable for their highly detailed and precise manner. An example of his work is illustrated in Hohn (1997, p. 167).
The painting here is an excellent example of both the Batuan style and Ketut Murtika’s extraordinary skill. It shows dozens of figures including farmers ploughing, women with temple offerings piled high on dishes balanced on their heads and so on amid dense foliage replete with myriad jungle animals, and with a pervading mood of magic and gloom. The flow of the narrative has a sequence of scenes in a ‘Z’ format across the painting such that its composition is structured by this arrangement.
This intricate, beautiful painting is signed in the lower middle with ‘KT Murtika Batuan Bali’. It remains in its original, indigenous hand-carved frame with gilt highlights.
Hohn, K.D., Reflections of Faith – The Art of Bali: The History of Painting in Batuan 1834-1994, Pictures Publishers Art Books, 1997.