Whose Canvas: Made Mahendra Mangku

A resident of Sukawati, Made Mahendra Mangku admits that art never actually ran in his family and claims that, while not being a priest, an inspirational life journey has taken him to reach where he is now.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name was originally Made Mahendra, while the ‘Mangku’ was given by my schoolmates during our first year at the Batu Bulan High School of Arts. It was because I did watercolor paintings and splattered the colors, and my friends told me that I was acting like a mangku (Balinese priest). Since then, people call me Mangku.
How did your interest in art start?
I had a relative in Ubud. When I was in the second year of elementary school, he brought me to visit Museum Puri Lukisan. That’s where I fell in love. In my fourth year, I started to learn drawing from a teacher. When I was in the final year of elementary school, I worked designing dance costumes in order to continue my study. When I entered high school, I thought I didn’t want to be a ‘laborer’ forever; I want to be an artist. I decided to stop working the next year and made my own income through paintings which I would sell to galleries.
Did you start off painting abstract art?
I didn’t. I started off working on naturalism, realism and figurative painting. I totally put my focus on abstract art when I was on my third semester at Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta. It was right after I was told by a lecturer that I have more potential on color and line. That was in 1994.
How did your cultural view affect your work?
Culture has a big influence. It’s different when I work in other places than Bali, as culture affects a lot. When I was in Yogyakarta, I never saw something so consistent. But in Bali, when I am doing ngayah (helping out with a religious activity), I sometimes find some cultural conflicts that are irrelevant with my own condition. That’s what I express through my work. In terms of colors, it can’t be denied as well. In Bali, these colors, intentionally or not, have a strong influence. The festivity of colors in Bali makes a rich element in a piece.
What can you say about your works?
Many people say that my works are poetic. Indirectly, I want all colors to be displayed. Although I often tell myself to use one color, but still, I also can’t avoid and escape that feeling to use more colors. That’s why people say I can’t make hideous works, with the dark colors like black or brown. And even when I use black, my works will still look sweet. Maybe that’s my character. I can’t deny it and it appears that way.


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