Sunday, July 24, 2005

Western artists in Bali

The painting is by Rudolph Bonnet, from 1975, titled "Pensive Young Man", from the Agung Rai Museum of Art.

It is all very well reading about artists in Bali, but it is difficult to find text and pictorial examples in the same place (online, at least: this Neka Art Museum book looks like the go). This little site has one example each of quite a few of the Balinese painting styles as well as of quite a few of the Western artists who resided in Bali. Better still are the online collections of the Neka Art Museum in Ubud, and of the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Peliatan, near Ubud.

According to Bill Dalton, Moon's Bali Handbook's author, "The island's two principal museums, in Ubud and Denpasar, lack the money to continue buying contemporary works. As a result, the really remarkable, high-quality pieces are bought up by discerning tourists or foreign art dealers, taken overseas, and lost to Bali forever." A wrapup of the various art galleries in Bali is here.

Harold Stephens of Thailand (read about him here; apparently he has written a biography of Theo Meiers) wrote an illustrated article for Thai Airways which features the rare opportunity to see Ni Polok, Le Mayeur's beautiful wife fully clothed, and a photograph of Le Mayeur as half undressed as Ni Polok was usually painted.

There are short biographies of some of Bali's artists, and information on where to find their works here.

There are some Donald Friend paintings, and a photo of Walter Spies in this corner of Stranger in Paradise, along with some cutting down of certain nonsense associated with the idea of "Bali style".

Murni's Warung's website's author says:
"Miguel Covarrubias, and his wife, Rose, went to Bali in 1930, visited Walter Spies in Ubud and wrote Island of Bali, the first major book on Bali, which is still widely read today. ...

Walter Spies, German (1895-1942), himself an artist, came to Bali at the suggestion of the royal family in Ubud. Spies told the local artists that they were merely churning out the same old themes and that they should paint scenes of daily life, the markets, planting rice, harvesting, temple festivals and dance performances.

Spies, Bonnet, Lempad and two princes of the royal family, Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati and his brother Cokorda Gede Raka Sukawati, created an artists' association, called Pita Maha, which means "great vitality". It also means ancestor, an idea that reverberates in the Balinese mind. The aims were to provide guidance, maintain standards and guarantee the artists' livelihoods.

Every week the artists, who included sculptors, brought their work to Spies and Bonnet. They discussed it with the artist and if they thought the quality good enough, agreed a price and arranged for it to be sold or exhibited. Until 1937 Museum Bali was the major outlet. Bonnet also bought from them and finally donated quite a lot of objects to the Puri Lukisan, Ubud Museum. Bonnet's pupils are still around: see Balinese Paintings.

At the meetings, Bonnet, in particular, explained, if the work was rejected, why it had not been selected. This led to an unfortunate, unhealthy Bonnet-style generation of painters in Ubud, who copied his style of half-turned torsos. Painters from outside Ubud, from villages such as Kamasan, Batuan and Sukawati, were also members of Pita Maha, but they retained their independence and were not so influenced by Bonnet.

Pita Maha organized exhibitions in Java and outside Indonesia, and for the first time individual artists came to be recognized. They started to sign their paintings. They were at long last producing non-functional works, not merely objects for the temple.

The association experienced some disruption when Spies was arrested for immoral conduct, homosexual relations with minors, in late 1938. He was detained for almost a year. Then in mid-1940 he was arrested for being a German national when Hitler invaded Holland. Spies was deported and died when a Japanese plane off Sumatra bombed the ship transporting him to Ceylon in 1942.

The Japanese invaded Bali in February 1942 and Pita Maha came to an end. During the Japanese Occupation, Bonnet was deported and interned in Makassar (Ujung Pandang) in the Celebes (Sulawesi) in East Indonesia. He returned after the War in the 1950s, but efforts to revive the association failed. The Ubud Painters Group replaced it, but it was a pale reflection. ...

The Dutch painter, Arie Smit, who was born in 1916, came to live in Campuan, Ubud in 1956. He still lives in the area, just next to the Neka Art Museum, where many of his Matisse-like paintings hang. He gave teenage boys in nearby Penestanan paper and paints and showed them how to prepare canvas and make frames, but that was all. He did not try to teach them how to paint or suggest subjects to them. They were absolutely free to do their own thing. He even hid his own paintings, so they were not influenced. And he did not praise their paintings either, as that would encourage the kids to repeat what they had done to please him.

Fishes and frogs abounded. Bright colours in naive style filled the canvas: yellow skies, pink oceans, green men. It was vital and it was fun: ducks with hats, frogs riding bikes. There was a sudden freshness in Ubud and Penestanan.

There was no better expression of rural, peasant life in Bali. The paintings were bought by foreigners mainly and embassies in Jakarta. The Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur had one in every room. The famous science visionary Buckminster Fuller, and anthropologist Margaret Mead, were collectors of this school. ...

[Arie] Smit arrived in Indonesia in 1938 on a military contract. He had been assigned to the Topographical Service as a lithographer. Following the Japanese invasion of 1942 he was taken as a prisoner of war to forced labour camps in Singapore, Thailand and Burma. After the Dutch finally acknowledged Indonesia's sovereignty in 1949, he stayed and became an Indonesian citizen in 1951. He taught graphics at the Institut Tecknologi in Bandung, Java, before finally moving to Bali in 1951 at the invitation of Bonnet and James Pandy. He then became a full-time painter and developed an understanding about Balinese community, rural life. Coastal areas and the hills inspired him. He still uses the environment as his main theme using pure colours. The largest collection of his works is in the Neka Art Museum.

The main Western artists in Bali, who painted very beautiful, sometimes romanticized paintings with Balinese themes, were:
  • the Swiss painter, Theo Meyer (1908-1982), who lived in Selat,
  • the Austrian Roland Strasser in Kintamani,
  • the Belgian aristocrat Adrien Le Mayeur (1880-1958) in Sanur,
  • the Dutch painter Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981) in Denpasar,
  • Australian Donald Friend (1915-1989).
Dutch Han Snel (1925-1998) and Catalan Antonio Blanco (1926-1999), who both married Balinese ladies, who survived them, lived in Ubud.

There are examples of their paintings in the art museums in Ubud. Blanco and Snel's paintings can also be seen in their personal galleries at their homes in Ubud. ... Blanco designed a museum, but did not live long enough to see the opening of it, the Blanco Renaissance Museum, in 2001, which is next to Murni's Warung."


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