I Gusti Ngurah Gede Pemecutan: Stamping a legacy with Balinese fingerprint paintings

by Agnes Winarti on 2012-07-12

BD/Agnes WinartiBD/Agnes Winarti

I Gusti Ngurah Gede Pemecutan does not need a stamp to mark his painting masterpieces. He has hundreds of his
fingerprints on all of them.

April 9, 1967 was initially a day of disappointment for Pemecutan, who discovered that he was being deceived by a fellow painter. The disappointment took a mental toll on the then 31-year-old painter, who was working on a Baris Dancer oil painting.

“I couldn’t perfectly paint the expression and the moves of the dancer. I was so upset, I had blemished the half-done painting all over with paint spots from my fingers,” recalled Pemecutan, talking to Bali Daily at his Fingerprint Painting Museum at Jl. Hayam Wuruk 175 on Monday.

When Pemecutan returned to the spoiled painting later on, he saw the dots had actually made the painting look much better. “Since then, I have continued painting with this rare fingerprint technique,” said Pemecutan.

The fingerprint painting technique does require extra patience and precision from the painter, he said. “Every dot must be placed precisely because you can’t brush it off like you can when painting using the normal brush technique,” he explained. For every fingerprint painting, Pemecutan has to start by painting the white canvas with dark-based colors such as green, blue or brown, followed by sketching using chalk, which is easier to remove when the fingerprint painting actually begins.

Pemecutan recalled that he worked for 18 months to complete his largest 3 meter by 1.5 meter painting of Perang Puputan Badung (Puputan Badung War) in 2001, which may have only needed a week to finish off using the regular brush-and-paint technique.

Although the fingerprint technique was an accidental discovery and developed autodidactly without any books or academic references, Pemecutan’s way of painting is regarded as part of the pointillism painting technique, in which small and distinct dots of pure colors are applied in pattern to form an image. French painters Georges Seurat and Paul Signac had developed the technique as early as in 1886 during the Impressionism era.  

“The difference is that my technique only uses dots, while other pointillism works still use a brush to create some of the strokes,” said the painter, who has previously also exhibited his works in Germany and Japan. Despite cynics that may have undermined his early works, Pemecutan persisted in polishing his technique after receiving encouragement from some distinguished figures, who include the former Indonesian education and cultural minister Fuad Hasan. “All my fingerprints made it impossible for the paintings to be forged,” Pemecutan softly smiled.  Only recently, on July 4, Pemecutan received a sweet 76th birthday gift, being recognized by the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) as the pioneer of the fingerprint painting technique. MURI estimated that Pemecutan has stamped a staggering 1,507,725 fingerprints in his masterpieces. This descendent of the well-respected Puri Pemecutan clan has 98 fingerprint paintings in his collection on display at his museum, which was established in 1993, while he has produced a total of 666 paintings, most of which were bought by art collectors from across the globe, including in France, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherland, the UK, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia.

“Imelda Marcos [the former first lady of the Philippines] has bought my painting,” said Pemecutan, who is also an author and poet.    

Despite being recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that weakens his muscles, Pemecutan continues to produce fingerprint paintings, with the latest one depicting an airplane, helicopter and sailing ship under the title Terbang dan Berlayar (Flying and Sailing), which was completed last August.

“I hope to produce more works until I’m 80. Now I may have to still walk with this cane, but tomorrow, I hope not to anymore,” said Pemecutan, citing his determination to free himself from the walking stick. After the Parkinson’s diagnosis, Pemecutan’s mobility was limited, forcing him into a wheelchair and crutches when he attempted to walk, but now he is showing good recovery.   

Pemecutan, whose education was only to senior high school, once worked as an exhibition administrator at Tampak Siring Palace during the years of the country’s first and second presidents, Sukarno and Soeharto, as well as serving as curator at the Denpasar Arts Center in the 60s. In the 80s, Pemecutan worked as an artwork designer for the Industry Ministry, making and developing Balinese ceramic artworks at Kapal village in Mengwi. His involvement since the early years of the island’s annual arts celebration, the Bali Arts Festival (PKB), has also placed him as a driving force for the upcoming 34th Bali Kite Festival that will take place in Padanggalak field, north of Sanur on July 13-14.      

“For me, this MURI award is not merely for myself, but also recognizes Bali, and Indonesia, overall as the place where fingerprint painting was born,” said Pemecutan, whose museum is the realization of his dream since senior high school. The Fingerprint Painting Museum opens daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no fixed entrance fee, but donations are welcomed.

- Photos by Agnes Winarti

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