My travel experiences have been a mixed bag. I’ve been gouged by crooked cops in Mexico, groped on the street in Havana, and given free surf lessons by hot Australians. Of all the people I’ve come across during my adventures, an artist named Ketut Erni, whom I met in Bali in 2005, is the one who stands out most.
I went to Bali on assignment for a magazine I used to work for. My mission was to soak up the island’s rich culture, explore its museums, and interview as many local artists as I could. I went straight to Ubud, Bali’s artistic hub, and quickly found a gallery full of masterful paintings—as well as the artist himself, Ketut, sitting quietly at an easel. His English was excellent, and he whisked me into his private studio, where he spoke to me for several hours about the history of Balinese art, his own interest in modernizing the island’s traditional imagery, and the school he had started to teach aspiring young artists different visual techniques.
Here was a man who had scarcely left his own tiny town but had taught himself to speak another language, educated himself extensively in art history, and even lamented the fact that Ubud didn’t have a recycling program in place. What Ketut taught me is that geographical and financial limitations are only as powerful as we allow them to be. He had one of the most expansive minds I’ve encountered, and it had allowed him to transcend his immediate circumstances and develop a truly inspiring worldview. When I left his studio that day, he gave me a beautiful painting he’d made to hang on my wall in San Francisco. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at it and feel grateful for my encounter with him.
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