Portrait of Ida Bagus Njana Tilem

"The childhood shows the man, as the morning shows the day"
- John Milton

Born in the village of Mas, Bali, on the 13th of Dec, 1936, into a long tradition of family woodcarvers, Ida Bagus Tilem showed an early fascination for the art which was to become his whole life. Despite the relative material poverty of his childhood, his fondest memories are of his childhood days. Preferring the company of his elders to that of the roaming village children, he spent his days seated at his father's side on a mat on the hard-packed earth of the family compound, watching the artist transformed the inanimate wood into the most strangely beautiful carvings.

Father and Son Life as a child in Bali is full of wonder, and Ida Bagus Tilem's favorite evenings were spent following his uncle's Wayang Kulit Shadow Puppet shows from village to village, his father's performances in Wayang Wong Drama and Topeng Mask Dance, and listening to the vivid tales of his grandfather. This strong influence on his basis of thinking and philosophy of life at a most impressionable age, which he is now fully able to appreciate, instilled in him an unquenchable creative desire. He spent hours struggling with his father's carving tools to bring to life small off-cuts of wood, remnants of his father's creations.

His father, Ida Bagus Nyana, born in 1912, was as a young man recognized as one of Bali's most talented sculptors of wood. A quiet, unpretentious, and unassuming man, Ida Bagus Nyana allowed his son to develop his skills unhindered, gently stressing the importance of patience and the total no-compatibility of materialism with creativity.

Slowly, the child developed his talent, despite battered hands from his first few attempts with his father's razor-sharp chisels, carving tiny animals and birds, and traditional figures from the Wayang stories. These he was able to sell to the random tourist, and the only art gallery on the island at that time, in Sanur. He saved up for a bicycle to go to school, and at high-school age used to ride 20 km to Denpasar every Sunday afternoon for the week's school in town, returning the following Saturday to immerse himself once more in his carving. His parents could not afford the expenses of schooling, so he carved for his education.

In 1958, because of family financial problems, Tilem decided to leave school and set up a studio in Mas at his home, where he sold his own work, and was able to contribute to the family income. Local boys used to come and sit with him. He now has more than 100 apprentices and the same number of fully fledged carvers working with him.

Recalling his own frustration as a youth trying to develop his skill and knowledge on the few materials available, he furnishes wood and tools to those as yet unable to buy their own, helps them to use material to its fullest possible potential, and then provides an outlet for sales in his studio.

Now a father of four children, Tilem is ever conscious of the importance of family tradition and his cultural heritage. Since his first trip abroad, when he was chosen to represent Indonesia at the New York World Fair in 1964, he has had numerous overseas exhibitions and demonstrations in Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany, Austria, and Mexico. He uses each trip to develop his knowledge and appreciation of art, but always finds himself eager to hurry home to his family and village, and to carry on with his work.

The important element in Tilem's work is his love of it. He is never so happy as when he is shirtless, seated cross-legged on a mat in a quiet place in the family compound, totally involved in his carving. The work of the artist is an extension of nature. The gentle curves and shapes of human limbs fuse with the glowing grain of the wood to attain a subtle synthesis of humanity and nature. Tilem has no lack of inspiration. His childhood experiences, his extensive collection of antiques, and his discoveries on overseas trips are an infinite source of subjects and ideas for new creativity, and each piece bears the stamp of his own brilliant craftsmanship.

Tilem CyberHome
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Mas - Ubud - Gianyar 80571, Bali. PO Box 3333 Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
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