Batik Paintings – The Javanese Wax Resistant Fibre Art

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Batik Paintings – The Javanese Wax Resistant Fibre Art

Batik painting is a highly beautiful and an ancient art form. Batik paintings represent a highly unique form of art involving various figures and patterns drawn on the pieces of fabrics. These paintings are believed to have originated in Indonesia wherein the original word referred to the dots on clothes. Batik represents the wax-resist dye technique, used in textiles. This art is believed to be more than one thousand years old. Batik art work is widely practised in regions like Java (Indonesia) and India. India is known for its rich tradition in Batik paintings and truly exquisite works of Batik art continue to be procured from different regions of India. From the Javanese origin the word batik is taken. The word 'ambatik' means to mark with spots or dots. In a wider sense, it signifies drawing, painting or writing. The word batik is derived from the Javanese word 'amba' which means write and 'tik' which means a dot. In October 2009, the UNESCO has acknowledged batik art as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

Although experts disagree as to the precise origins of batik, samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1,500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries. Although in these countries people were using the technique of dye resisting decoration, within the textile realm, none have developed batik to its present-day art form as the highly developed intricate batik found on the island of Java in Indonesia.

Infant Krishna

Although there is mention of 'fabrics highly decorated' in Dutch transcripts from the 17th century, most scholars believe that the intricate Javanese batik designs would only have been possible after the importation of finely woven imported cloth, which was first imported to Indonesia from India around the 1800s and afterwards from Europe beginning in 1815. Textile patterns can be seen on stone statues that are carved on the walls of ancient Javanese temples such as Prambanan (AD 800), however there is no conclusive evidence that the cloth is batik. It could possibly be a pattern that was produced with weaving techniques and not dying. What is clear is that in the 19th century batik became highly developed and was well ingrained in Javanese cultural life.

Some experts feel that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Certainly, it's royal nature was clear as certain patterns were reserved to be worn only by royalty from the Sultan's palace. Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined design sense evident in traditional patterns. It is highly unlikely though that they would be involved in any more than the first wax application. Most likely, the messy work of dyeing and subsequent waxing was left to court artisans who would work under their supervision.

Amber-Gold Batik Silk Scarf with Floral Bootis

Javanese royalty was known to be great patrons of the arts and provided the support necessary to develop many art forms, such as silver ornamentation, wayang kulit (leather puppets) and gamelan orchestras. In some cases, the art forms overlap. The Javanese dalang (puppeteer) not only was responsible for the wayang puppets but was also Tambil Miring Design an important source of batik patterns. Wayang puppets are usually made of goat skin, which is then perforated and painted to create the illusion of clothing on the puppet. Used puppets were often sold to eager ladies who used the puppets as guides for their batik patterns. They would blow charcoal through the holes that define the patterns of clothing on the puppets, in order to copy the intricate designs onto the cloth.

Other scholars disagree that batik was only reserved as an art form for royalty, as they also feel its use was prevalent with the rakyat, the people. It was regarded an important part of a young lady’s accomplishment that she be capable of handling a canting (the pen-like instrument used to apply wax to the cloth) with a reasonable amount of skill, certainly as important as cookery and other housewifery arts to Central Javanese women.

Selection and Preparation of the Cloth for Batik

A Batik creation involves 3 basic steps – waxing, dyeing, and scraping (removing). Overall, the process is one where firstly the wax is used for creating designs on certain pre-defined areas on the fabric. Secondly the fabric is dyed and then the wax is removed by scraping or by boiling the cloth so that the wax peels off. The result is a beautiful piece of cloth with some very unconventional designs. Traditionally, it is used on Cotton or Silk fabrics.

Natural materials such as cotton or silk are used for the cloth, so that it can absorb the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process. The fabrics must be of a high thread count (densely woven). It is important that cloth of high quality have this high thread count so that the intricate design qualities of batik can be maintained.

The cloth that is used for batik is washed and boiled in water many times prior to the application of wax so that all traces of starches, lime, chalk and other sizing materials are removed. Prior to the implementation of modern-day techniques, the cloth would have been pounded with a wooden mallet or ironed to make it smooth and supple so it could best receive the wax design. With the finer machine-made cotton available today, the pounding or ironing processes can be omitted. Normally men did this step in the batik process. Strict industry standards differentiate the different qualities of the cloth used today, which include Primissima (the best) and Prima. The cloth quality is often written on the edge of the design. A lesser quality cloth which is often used in Blaco. For Cotton fabrics, a gentle wash with a regular detergent is recommended. For silk fabrics, dry cleaning is recommended for its longevity.

Brown Pure Batik Cotton Sari from Madhya Pradesh

Apart from the fabric used and the diversity in designs, there are four different techniques of making a Batik printed piece of cloth. In the splash method, the wax is splashed over the fabric in a random fashion and then the dye is poured. This results in a virtual explosion of random designs and colours. Then there is a screen-printing process – This method involves the use of a stencil to etch the designs in an orderly and defined manner. The hand painting method essentially uses the art of Kalamkari to draw the designs and separate the wax. A fourth method used is the scratch and starch resist method.

Modern batik, although having strong ties to traditional batik, utilizes linear treatment of leaves, flowers and birds. These batiks tend to be more dependent on the dictates of the designer rather than the stiff guidelines that have guided traditional craftsmen. This is also apparent in the use of colour that modern designers use. Artisans are no longer dependent on traditional (natural) dyes, as chemical dyes can produce any colour that they wish to achieve. Modern batik still utilizes canting and cap to create intricate designs.

Batik-Dyed Salwar Kameez Cotton Fabric with White Flowers

The horizon of batik is continuing to widen. While the design process has remained basically the same over the last century, the process shows great progress in recent decades. Traditionally, batik was sold in around 2.5-meter lengths used for kain panjang or sarong in traditional dress. Now, not only is batik used as a material to clothe the human body, its uses also include furnishing fabrics, heavy canvas wall hangings, tablecloths and household accessories. Batik techniques are used by artists to create batik paintings which grace many homes and offices. Fine quality handmade batik is very expensive and the production of such works is very limited. However, in a Modern Batik world that is dominated by machines, there is an increasing interest in materials that have been handmade. Batik is one of these materials.

From being an attire to be worn as traditional ceremonies like birth, wedding and death, Batik prints have come a long way and become icons of chic clothing and fashion statements around the world. Due to its simplistic designs and delicate art forms, batik is loved by all. It can be placed over a piece of canvas to create a masterpiece painting or stitched as curtains, sofa covers or quilts to lighten up the offices or homes.Batik is historically one of the most expressive and subtle of all the resist methods. The ever-widening range of techniques available offers the artist the opportunity to explore a unique process in a flexible and very exciting way. The process of batik brings unexpected elements of surprise and delight which is why so many artists find it so fascinating and quite addictive.

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