Contemporary Batik in the Pesisir Tradition

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This is a batik from the workshop of Sutoyo Slamet from Wiradesa, Pekalongan, also mentioned in my previous post on Pesisir batik. What stands out immediately for me in his work, is the delicate artistry and precision of the waxing. The canting his pembatik use has an opening so small, it can barely be seen with the naked eye.

Sutoyo’s pembatik (the person applying the wax)  range in age from 25 to 65 and they all started as beginners, or just average batik makers ten years ago when Sutoyo decided to try to produce batik halus, the finest quality. With training and persistent patience, they have gained the skill necessary to become the foundation for Sutoyo’s batik production. They each have a repertoire of hundreds of patterns (issen-issen) and when to use them. Note details of the batik above and below, how each leaf, each blade of grass, each petal, each feather has an internal life of its own, enhanced by the delicate lines, dots,  and flourishes created by the pembatik. This more than any other aspect identifies the batik as being in the Pesisir tradition.

In earlier times men also applied the wax with the canting, but now there are very few men who have the required skill. The designer is not unlike the director of a play. But in drawing the design on paper and conceiving and supervising the plan for the production from start to finish, he also writes the script.

There are many aspects involved in this process starting from the graphic design, always a linear drawing, to transferring the design to the cloth, the application of wax with the canting, to the the coloring, immersion in a dye bath or painting on the dye with a brush, and finally the removal of the wax to reveal the finished results. Usually the designer makes the drawing and directs the entire process, employing others who are expert in the various skills needed. Rarely can the designer master all of the skills required for each step. 

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 I had the pleasure of meeting Sutoyo Slamet on a recent trip to Pekalongan, the rare batik designer who has mastered each step, and who can  easily sit down with the women around the pot of wax, joining them in applying the delicate lines on the cloth. He colors all of the batik himself as well and is an excellent draftsman of beautiful balanced compositions.  

I was impressed not only with his work, but also the way in which he works. His workshop is like his batik, clean and bright. It was clear that his staff is devoted to him and to their work, and they take great pride in their skill and the quality of the batik they produce.

Here are some examples of their incredible skill in applying the wax to the drawing on the cloth.