Visiting the Lempad House in Ubud Bali

Bali has a list of famous artists from the 20th century and one of the most famous was I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, painter and sculptor who is best know for his ink drawings of mythical Balinese Hindu scenes.

I rode up to Ubud today from Seminyak to check out his house and look into getting a painting lesson. The house is located right on Jl. Raya Ubud, the main street and is almost opposite Nomad restaurant. There is no admission fee or any staff on duty. Lempad’s family still live there and it feels more like a house than a museum.

Entering though an archway I saw a few family housing structures that were displaying artwork. No people seemed to be around though apart from a young guy looking after a group of fighting cocks in their cages. There were several cages of other birds and this made the whole place feel very Balinese.

After a few minutes a fellow named I Gusti Gede Udayana introduced himself and told me he was Lempad’s grandson. He then directed me to the rear bale where I saw ink drawings, carvings and other works by Lempad including this cremation tower.

Gede was super relaxed and didn’t seem to be trying to sell me anything. We talked about his grandfather and I asked him if he himself had met some of the other famous Ubud painters. He said he had met Rudolf Bonnet and also Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati ( the last king ). It is interesting to note that Lempad, Bonnet and Sukawati were all friends who died within a few months of each other. They were cremated together in Ubud in 1979.

Among the items Gede showed me was a decorated door carving which was done by a relative to replicate a Lempad painting. I also saw some masks that Lempad was working on and other memorabilia including newspaper articles, one of which was signed on the back by Suteja Neka, founder of the Neka museum.

I asked Gede if his grandfather had taught him to paint and draw. He said he had but it was so hard to be like him. I asked what tips the master had given him and he said Lempad had told him he must start with the head of a figure, then figure out where the arms and legs must be in proportion. He also told Gede to learn to draw in clean lines, which Gede said was very hard. Lempad’s paintings are usually black and white and have that simple clean set of outlines.

Gede told me that sometime Lempad would use a little gold leaf or other color but really preferred black and white. The Chinese block that they used for making ink and the mixing bowl are still around and today the artists use modern paints too.

Gede actually builds houses for a living now and showed me a book showcasing one of his creations in Ubud for an American family. He’s no slouch and does great work.

Some of the other artist with works on display here are very talented too and I looked at a traditional village scene one guy did under Gede’s magnifying glass. The detail was incredible and the price was $500 for the 7’ by 5’ painting.

I asked if he gave painting classes and he said no but his friend did. The style is traditional. I will have to call back to arrange a session with him and who knows what skills I might pick up.

Gede said the house is always open because they live there, so I suppose any reasonable time you feel like visiting is okay with them. It is true that the best collection of Lempad’s work is at the Neka Art Museum.

Riding I laughed at the thought that there are so many fancy galleries that cater to western buyers that all owe a debt to the art scene created by the like of Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet and Nyoman Lempad, yet here at Lempad’s house the family carry on as though not much has changed.

Puri Lempad Bali Telephone: ++62 (361) 975618

By Nick