Home Is Where the Art Is

Blending art, design and lifestyle, the TONYRAKA Gallery and Art Lounge is an oasis of creativity. We spoke with second-generation owner Tony Hartawan about his vision for the space and insights into the Balinese art scene

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Fresh, healthy fare with a side of tribal and contemporary art is what visitors to the TONYRAKA Gallery and Art Lounge can expect. Located in the heart of Ubud, Bali, this hub for art and delicious food exudes a hip vibe and invariably draws in a trendy and art-loving crowd. 

Second-generation owner Tony Hartawan has made an indelible impression on Ubud’s creative community, and not just with his specially commissioned La Marzocco espresso machine, uniquely decorated by Balinese artist Made Wiradana.

Founded by his father, an acclaimed wood carver, the gallery specialised in traditional wood carvings until a young Raka joined the gallery in 1997 and started introducing contemporary art.

When his parents retired in 2007, Tony took over the business and expanded the gallery — both physically as well as conceptually, with the addition of a new wing for modern art, promoting up-and-coming young artists and adding international artists like Korean Kang Yo Bae and Dutch artist Walter van Oel to the gallery’s stable. 

Adding this new dimension quickly earned Raka a reputation among the hip and hungry crowds. ‘I conceived the Art Lounge as a living room where creative people can meet and exchange new ideas that may stimulate even further creative possibilities,’ says Raka, who adds that his intention for the lounge is for it to act as a bridge between art, design and lifestyle. And Ubud’s creative folk certainly have an appetite for it — mouth-watering items like nasi kuning (turmeric rice) and avocado coffee are part of the reason that the gallery has seen 20 times more visitors than before the lounge opened. 

Naming Agung Mangu Putra, Ketut Teja Astawa and Natisa Jones as three of the most exciting modern artists working in Bali today, Raka observes that the island’s contemporary art scene is at an interesting juncture, with the Internet playing a key role. ‘Contemporary Balinese art is becoming more diverse. Look at the overt sexuality and stylised forms by Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih or Mangu Putra’s brave critique on colonialism and politics, for example,’ he says. 

Raka also likes the fact that foreign artists draw inspiration from Bali, which in effect puts the Island of the Gods on the international art map. ‘I'm thinking of Ashley Bickerton's depictions of Bali, or Mary Lou Pavlovic's addition of black, grey and white checks based on the traditional Balinese textile polĺèng to her sculptures,’ he notes. But Raka is also quick to point out that he also has a strong predilection for the tribal Indonesian art that occupies a significant portion of the gallery’s back wing. ‘I draw inspiration from both tribal and modern art, and I enjoy the contrast,’ he says.

With five generations of the family living on the sprawling grounds that the gallery and art lounge occupy, Raka is looking toward the future. His son and daughter-in-law help out in the cafe while his retired parents take a back seat (literally and figuratively) in one of the balé. ‘We practice care for each other, learn from one another and respect and serve elder members of the family,’ he espouses, reaffirming that in his case, home really is where his art is.

Text / Ong Chin Huat
Images / Courtesy of Tonyraka Gallery & Art Lounge

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