Home |Batik Gallery |The Art of Batik |Bulletin Board |Contacts |Links |Shows & Exhibitions
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

<-- Last Chapter

Next Chapter -->


Our first impressions of Bali were mostly of a fabulously exotic marketplace and playground. Legian, where we were staying, was basically one dusty main street running parallel to an endless golden beach. There were many small alleys or gangs as they were called, running perpendicularly inland to connect the two. The main street was lined with clothes shops of every description and the beach with golden bodies of every shape and size. For many visitors, life in Legian didn't extend beyond the beach and the shops. Legian was the center of the clothes industry on the island. People came from all over the world to do business here, this being one of the world's chief textile design and manufacturing centers. Labour here was very cheap. Of course, one tended to get what one paid for and nightmarish tales of dyes that ran, of colours that didn't quite match and even of shirts with one long sleeve and one short, were legion. But that didn't stop the Rag Trade from descending on Bali twice a year to bring designs to be realized, to shop for new and unusual textiles and to struggle with the local factories in order to get their quotas and orders filled in time. In some ways, Legian was a pretty desperate place, I soon realized. That was probably why most people played hard at night as soon as the day's work was completed. By late afternoon, there would be a line of motorbikes parked along the sandy path by the beach. The restaurants and cafes there would be filling up and the daily soccer game on the sand had started up again. Little groups of people would begin to form all over the beach, runners would start to run and the joggers would start their jog. There were people swimming in the water all around the clock it seemed but as the day wound down, the focus of the players would begin to turn to the sunset.

The sunsets in Bali were famous all over the world, were invariably spectacular and signaled the end of the work day and the start of the night games. We found ourselves on the same circuit as the International Beautiful People Club, that elite group of rich jetsetters who have nothing better to do than fly to different hot spots around the world and lie and burn their golden bodies on different golden beaches. They sat out in the evenings and had drinks watching the sunset. Later they would eat an evening meal at some decidedly expensive restaurant before hitting some disco club somewhere around the world. There were plenty of those people around Bali and we soon found ourselves sharing the same exotic beaches with them, eating at the table next to them and bumping into them at the Double Six or the Gado Gado Discos.

But not for very long. Catherine and I had checked out that scene, recognized that it wasn't really for us and soon stopped going dancing every night. We found a couple of small warungs -restaurants- which served good cheap vegetarian meals and began to eat almost exclusively at those. There was a local Indonesian dish called nasi champur, rather like an Indian Thali meal, which consisted of rice, tofu, various vegetables all topped with a gado gado -peanut- or hot chili sauce. You ordered it by pointing at the various dishes that you wanted until your plate was piled high. D.J's Restaurant on the main road had the best version of this dish and we ate there often. Across the road from D.J's, the best bar/restaurant in all of Asia was to be found, I swear. We went there on our first night on the island and on countless other nights too. It was called Goa 2000 or just plain Goa Bar and was a massive open building, typically made in the form of a wooden pyramid on stilts with a palm thatched pointed roof at least 100 feet high. There were several bars, good food, the best music that I had heard in a long time and a never-ending floor show of exotic people passing through. As a dedicated people watcher, I spent hours at Goa Bar during the seven months that Catherine and I lived in Bali that year.

Bali had a reputation for being an island devoted to art and that certainly seemed to be the case. There was art of every kind to be seen and bought there. Java was reputed to be the world center for Batik but the art was very popular in Bali also. Javanese workers were brought down to work in the Balinese batik factories where they could earn much more money than they could at home. They were responsible for most of the batiked cloth I saw in Bali. I saw incredible amounts of batik clothes but nothing with the realism of my work. The local batik was mostly made with tjaps, wood or metal relief blocks which were dipped into hot wax, stamped onto the cloth and overdyed to produce repetitive patterns. Some of them were extremely beautiful and we saw lots of different applications of the batik cloth, like cushions, bedspreads, tablecloths as well as bags and belts made from the material.

After spending more than twenty years in almost total isolation living in a Western society where nobody knew what batik was and where I continually had to explain myself and my art, I was suddenly surrounded by batik and batik artists. I would see huge piles of batik cloth and clothes being delivered by messengers on motorbikes all over town. Batik was for sale in every clothes shop and the smell of beeswax was everywhere. I loved it! And there wasn't only batik to be seen everywhere on this island of artists and artisans. There was also Ikat, a form of woven cloth in which elaborate pictures could be dyed into the threads that made it up. There were tie dyes, lovely oil paintings of the island and of its people, of birds, animals, fish and flowers and there were wood sculptures as well as all kinds of mobiles and jewelery, silverwork and masks. There were carved hanging figures of every description from angels to dragons to flying pigs, standing carved figures, amazingly realistic carved whole trees complete with fruit, flowers and detachable leaves. There was some fantastic carved wooden jewelery. One could see beautifully worked leather goods, bags, belts, shoes and clothes, chess sets and carved stone backgammon sets, bows and arrows and clubs and spears. There were some very beautiful clothes to be seen too. There seemed to be every kind of art under the sun and it was mostly of a very high quality. I learned that each village on the island was dedicated to creating one particular item or working in one particular medium. Thus, all the members of one particular family would, for instance, be wood carvers or painters. Art was an integral part of life on Bali and had been, long before the advent of tourism had brought the potential of commerce and the possibility of big money to the island. And the Balinese weren't only famous as visual artists either. With music and dance an essential factor in the Balinese religion, it was possible to watch ritualistic dance performance any night of t of the Balinese lifestyle and psyche. I knew that Bali was my kind of place.

Sam the drummer and I got involved in a project together at about this time which we called "The Post-Apocalyptic Circus". Christian, the owner of Topi Koki, where my batik show was still hanging, was interested in putting on parties at his restaurant and invited us to organize one. Under the aegis of my (somewhat hypothetical) company, The Atomic Cafe, we invited every musician and performer that we knew to participate and soon had a very strong program put together. Sam's band, "The Massive Riddim Posse", was the show's headlining act and he would also perform as N'Sambal!, the Human Drum Machine. My English friend Nick was to perform solo as Nik Bintang and also with his punky rock band, The Baygons. The RajNeeshi contingent in Legian was slated to perform as Ishmala and the Clockwork Oranges but dropped out at the last moment. Hawkwind the dancer would perform a piece as would Australian Shane who would play a couple of songs with his band. Simon and his cohort Robbie from Loud were to be the MCs under the pseudonyms Big Bob and the Missing Link. I built a large TV out of cardboard so that they could appear as two talking heads. Catherine put together a troupe of lovely lady go-go dancers called The Little White Lies who were dressed in white and would act as cheerleaders to get the dancing going whenever it flagged. My concept was that the audience was the screen. Everybody was to dress in white and the walls were draped with sheets. I set up slide projectors in the corners of the huge open space which would project images onto the people and the show. I resurrected my Sixties Lightshow, The Retinal Blowjob, for the occasion which was something I had wanted to do for a long time.

"The Post-Apocalyptic Circus" was a great success. About six hundred people showed up, all but about four of them (who for reasons best known to themselves came in black and somehow looked very silly) dressed in white. It was a wonderful party but tremendously stressful and a lot of hard work for Sam and I. Simon and Robbie, for the first and probably only time in their lives, were rather subdued and even tongue-tied as MCs in their TV. But they got drunk and finally trashed their box and threw it away. They had somehow managed to get completely free access to the bar and had drunk a tremendous amount before we managed to control them. Most of the music was fabulous, Lorne from Loud's harmonica playing was a standout as was Sam's very hot reggae band. I practically had to threaten Shane with violence before he'd get up and play with his band as he had promised he would -a curse on all those sensitive artistes, drunkards and neurotic painters- but finally, with the help of a couple of stiff drinks, he lead his band through a couple of shaky songs. Hawkwind danced for a long time, starting off behind backlit sheets which threw his shadow onto the sheet and looked tremendously effective. But he went on too long in a self-absorbed, narcissistic sort of way and I wished he'd stopped a lot sooner. I thought that the projected slide show was a great success and that the Little White Lies were absolutely gorgeous. It was a thrilling night and one of my best theatrical productions.

Meanwhile, I was busy with a new collection of textile designs for Loud which was mainly aimed at the currently popular British "Rave" scene. I had to come up with suitably mind-expanding images and had settled on a series of Fractal patterns. Fractals are computer generated designs, very much akin to the psychedelic images of the Sixties in appearance and are graphic representations of the mathematical equations relating to Chaos Theory. I also came up with -I say came up with because the drawing was mostly copied from Swedish comic books that I found at Suve's- a very pop sci-fi design that we called "Lust in Space". The final design evolved slowly, was eventually worked on by nearly everybody at the Loud House and was printed on white denim jeans and jackets. It looked very contemporary in a Sixties' retro sort of way, I thought. It felt as if there was nothing new under the sun in the Rag Trade and the accompanying Fabric Design field. "Lust in Space" was perfectly apropos for these post-modernist plagiarizing times.

We were beginning to settle into a long stay in Bali and to find some kind of daily routine at last. We continued to explore the island with Phillip and drove up to Bedugal Crater where there was a beautiful temple out in the middle of the lake and then went on to see Git Git Waterfall. When we got there, we found that a boardwalk had been built since Phillip's last visit and we had to walk along it past stalls selling the usual tourist goods at rather exorbitant prices. But it was worth it when we reached the waterfall which was spectacularly high with tons of water rushing down every minute. Further back from the Fall, we passed a little hut and crossed the river there by means of a shaky wooden bridge. The scene put me in mind of a Hokusai wood block print with Catherine in the role of the traditional Sage lost in contemplation of the view. (Insert "Git Git Waterfall" batik here)

At the end of August, my work schedule suddenly went into hyper-drive when Loud asked me to come up with three meters of Fractal design-printed fabric for a clothes show that Loud wanted to attend and show at the following week. I had plenty of fractal designs completed but nothing on cloth and there wasn't time to batik such a complex and large piece of cloth in the time I was given. So I went to a factory on the outskirts of Legian which was run by a young Balinese man called Nick and enlisted the help of his best Javanese workers to help me complete the project in a hurry. The silk-screening factory was surrounded by a high wall and was basically two long open sheds, each with two thirty meter-long tables so that an entire bolt of cloth could be dyed each time. I showed up the next morning with my drawings, Nick cleared the decks for me and we transferred the drawing to cloth using the factory's lightbox. Working with my team of three young Javanese men, we spread the cloth out on a frame and started to paint dyes onto the cloth using a seaweed thickener to stop the dyes from flowing into one another. The Fractal design had many different colours and we took five days to complete it. The cloth came out beautifully, I had a wonderful experience and learned a lot in the process. My Javanese friends were incredible workers, quick, accurate and careful and fun to be around. They were all in their early twenties and had come down to Bali in a group to earn far better money than they could at home in Yogyakarta. Here their lives were solely about work. Their pay was minimal by my standards and they lived in the factory compound which they only got to leave on Sundays to play a game of soccer for exercise. All the money they made was sent back to their families in Java. But they were indefatigably cheerful at all times and were really a pleasure to be around.

One, expensive and lovingly created shirt was sewn from my cloth and flown out to London immediately for the Fashion Show. I subsequently learned that the Fractal shirt was somehow held up by Customs Authorities in France for a week and never made it to the Show as planned. It went on show in the front window of Loud's main shop on King's Rd. in Chelsea, London eventually to attract orders.

<-- Last Chapter

Next Chapter -->

tjanting tools
Home |Batik Gallery |The Art of Batik |Bulletin Board |Contacts |Links |Shows & Exhibitions