Agung Rai is young and dynamic. He was born in the village of Peliatan on 17 July 1955 and began dealing in art at an early age after studying painting with Anak Agung Gede Raka Turas and Nyoman Darmana. He is currently the leading force in the prolific world of Balinese painting.
Agung Rai's passion for art was not dulled by realising his own limitations as a painter, so he began selling the works of his friends. The result of this was the opening in 1978 of the first of several buildings which now constitute the Agung Rai Fine Art Gallery and now the fulfillment of his dream - a Museum, the Agung Rai Museum of Art which opened on 9 June 1996, where people from all over the world can meet to enjoy and discuss art Over the years his collection has grown to be one of great merit and diversity, not only in the context of Balinese art, but of Indonesian culture as a whole.
The fostering and the nurturing of the arts is often carried out on a collective basis in Bali. The concept of community art programs, though relatively new to the modern Western world, is an integral part of the wholeness of community in Bali. The idea that there should be democratic and equitable access to the means of cultural production is clearly demonstrated at the Agung Rai Fine Art Gallery. The art products of well-established Indonesian painters are displayed in the same compound in which young painters collectively participate in the creative process. They work together on individual pieces, encourage, seek help from and advise each other. There is an atmosphere of friendship and calm concentration as they curiously explore the processes of painting and drawing.
Agung Rai himself wanted to be a painter, and he knew what it was like to be poor. Though his father owned some land it was not productive enough to support his family. Through the necessity of hunger, Agung Rai developed his skills as an entrepreneur. It soon became apparent from his attempts at painting that he would never succeed as an artist. The canvas remained blank, and inspiration and enjoyment evaded him. Instead he turned his efforts in another direction.
Many of his friends did not have the time to paint and then spend days trying to sell their work, so he decided to help them with the latter. In 1968 he borrowed some works from his teacher and some of his friends and set off to sell them to the tourists. There were fewer tourists in those days and they generally attended dance performances in the villages. One of these shows happened to take place in the village of Mas, near Peliatan, and Agung Rai set off on a bicycle with his paintings which he finally managed to sell for a dollar a piece.
This success prompted him to expand his territory to Kuta. At a time when there were only a few hotels, Ida Bagus Sumantra, who was then a young boy accompanying his father from Gianyar to sell woodcarvings in Kuta, remembers an enchanting, curly-headed boy making an appearance and attracting attention to himself by wiggling some little carved monkeys on a stick. Such was the charm of this boy, he always managed to sell everything he had. The other boys, many of whom had sold nothing, were not at all unhappy because Agung Rai would often buy lunch for them.
As the number of tourists increased, Agung Rai spent more time sitting in restaurants frequented by foreigners, listening to and learning English and establishing friendships. Thus began his business and a small collection of works that he loved. During these seven and a half years, he built three rooms at his house in Peliatan so that he could invite people back, show them his other paintings, and accommodate them until they were ready to return to Kuta. These humble rooms have now been replaced by an idyllic hotel, KOKOKAN HOTEL, which is away from both his home and gallery, but next to the Museum of his dreams.
Marriage and the birth of his first child in 1978 wrought changes in his routine as he did not want to be away from his family day after day. He sold the motorbike that had carried him to and from Kuta during recent years, and bought the land at Peliatan on which the first building of the gallery was eventually erected.
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