Jakarta Globe, Sylviana Hamdani, December 4, 2013
|‘Farmer’s Life’ by I Nyoman Londo. (Photo courtesy of Erasmus Huis)|
There is a tropical aura in the main exhibition hall of the Erasmus Huis Jakarta these days. Its creamy-hued walls are lined with colorful Balinese paintings depicting idyllic life on the paradise island.
“I think it’s the most interesting exhibition that Erasmus Huis has ever had,” director, Ton van Zeeland said.
The exhibition consists of 20 beautiful paintings by Dutch artists Rudolf Bonnet(1895-1978), Arie Smit (1916-now)and their Balinese pupils.
These paintings have been handpicked by Dutch art historian and expert of Indonesian modern and contemporary art, Dr Helena Spanjaard, from three of the most prominent museums in Ubud (Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), Neka Art Museum and Museum Puri Lukisan), as well as Museum Pasifika in Nusa Dua and Oei Hong Djien (OHD) Museum in Malang, East Java.
“It’s a very academic exhibition,” van Zeeland said. “It’s not just nice pictures, but there’s a history of cooperation between Dutch and Balinese artists in this exhibition. And that’s never been done before.”
The exhibition highlights the modernizing influence on Balinese art of Dutch painters Bonnet and Smit, who have lived most of their lives in Ubud.
Bonnet, who studied fine arts in the Netherlands and Italy, first came to Ubud in 1929 after being invited by German artist Walter Spies (1895-1942), who had been living in Ubud since 1927.
Upon his arrival, Bonnet was mesmerized with the peaceful way of life on the island, as well as its warm-hearted people. His first days on the island were filled with capturing on canvas the Balinese people in their daily activities.
One of Bonnet’s earliest works on the island “Arca Dancer” is displayed at the exhibition. The crayon-on-paper portrait features a stern-looking male Balinese dancer, arrayed in an elaborate traditional costume, posing for the dance.
The Ubud prince at that time, Tjokorde Gede Agung Sukawati (1910-1978), accommodated both Bonnet and Spies in his royal guesthouse in Campuhan, Ubud.
“My father accommodated them in order to open two-way communications so that Balinese artists could learn something new,” the prince’s son Tjokorde Gede Putra Sukawati said. “To open up their horizon without losing their identity.”
According to Tjokorde Putra (the prince’s son), at that time (before the 1930s), Balinese artists only worked for the traditional palace. Referred to as “Unagi” and “Sangging” (both words mean “makers” in Balinese), these Balinese artists usually drew two-dimensional wayang (leather puppet) figures from Hindu legends on fabrics. These fabrics would then be used to adorn temples and palaces during religious ceremonies.
“The wayang paintings didn’t have dimensions, human anatomy or perspectives,” said Tjokorde. “But the coming of foreign artists [to Ubud] changed all that.”
From time to time, Balinese artists in Ubud came to see Bonnet and Spies in the guesthouse. They showed them their paintings and watched them work.
“Bonnet and Spies never pushed them to follow their style,” said Tjokorde. “But they had dialogues through my father as the mediator and translator.”
These dialogues influenced the Balinese to take on a modern painting style. Human figures in the paintings started to take on a more proportional anatomy. Instead of being portrayed in their static poses, the human figures in these modern-styled paintings were pictured to be working or dancing. Light and dark accents were also used to bring the subjects of the paintings to life.
One of Bonnet’s most talented pupils was Anak Agung Gde Sobrat (1912-1992).
Sobrat, the son of the traditional wayang sculptor who had followed in his father’s footsteps, began to take on people in their daily lives as his main subjects after meeting the Dutch maestro. And his paintings became more enriched in colors and dimensions.
“Bonnet advised Balinese artists to look around and depict daily life as they saw it,” Tjokorde said.
In later years, Sobrat became very famous. Many of his paintings are now collected by local and international art collectors. Indonesia’s first president Soekarno was one of his loyal patrons.
One of Sobrat’s paintings in this exhibition, “Portrait of Balinese Woman” (1975), is lent by Museum Pasifika in Nusa Dua, Bali. The black-and-white painting featured a young Balinese woman holding a tray of offerings in her hand. Her facial expression looks very solemn as if she is about to enter a holy place.
“This exhibition is a great opportunity for art lovers in Jakarta,” Philippe Augier, representative of Museum Pasifika said. “Not everyone can go to Bali to see these beautiful paintings. So, we’ve brought them to Jakarta for more people to see and learn from them.”
Museum Pasifika has also lent two paintings by Bonnet and one by Smit.
The Balinese maestro, Sobrat, also drew a lot of scenes of buyers and sellers in traditional fresh markets, farmers in their rice fields and dancers in the temples during his lifetime.
Many traditional artists in Ubud, including Ida Bagus Made Poleng (1915-1999), I Wayan Barwa (1933-2004)and I Ketut Djodol (1940-1965), then followed Sobrat’s style of painting.
Their style, later known as the “Ubud Style,” is marked as the onset of modern Balinese art.
Some of their works are also displayed at the exhibition in Erasmus Huis Jakarta.
After Indonesia’s independence, tourism in Bali blossomed. Many international tourists came to the island, saw the modern Balinese paintings and bought what they liked for their private collections.
Seeing this phenomenon, Bonnet became concerned that the best pieces of modern Balinese art would be taken offshore.
In an attempt to save the most iconic modern Balinese paintings for future reference, he and Tjokorde Gede Agung Sukawati set up the Museum Puri Lukisan (‘the Palace’s Museum of Paintings”), the first museum in Bali, in 1956.
Bonnet donated most of his own private collections to the museum.
Museum Puri Lukisan lent five paintings, all by Bonnet’s Balinese pupils, to the exhibition in Erasmus Huis.
Arie Smit first came to Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1938 as topographical staff for the Dutch army.
The artist took on Indonesian citizenship and lived between Jakarta and Bandung after Indonesia’s independence.
Smit came to Bali for the first time in 1956. And like Bonnet, the Dutch artist fell in love with the island and its people and still lives here today.
True to his topographical backgrounds, Smit’s first paintings on the island portray linear landscapes and Bali’s traditional structures.
For example, one of Smit’s paintings in the exhibition, “Temple Ceremony” (1957), portrays a temple in Ubud bathed in early morning sunlight. Three women, carrying large baskets of offerings on their heads, are pictured as entering the temple in the oil-on-canvas painting.
Later, during the 1990s, the artist’s style became abstract.
In his painting, “The Old Banyan Tree” (1990), the whole canvas is covered with color patches.
The old banyan tree in the 67-by-94-centimeter painting looks magnificent with its massive trunk, branches and roots clawing into the brown soil. A lone farmer carrying a hoe on his shoulder is also portrayed as passing the tree in the oil-on-canvas painting.
The 97-year-old painter is considered the father of the “Young Artists” style in Bali.
“Smit saw some young peasant boys painting in the sand with bamboo sticks in Penestanan [an area in Ubud],” said Dr Spanjaard. “He gave them canvas, paper and paints so that they started to paint.”
These young artists then gathered in Smit’s house in Ubud to learn painting. Some of them learned by copying directly from Smit’s own paintings.
“Smit told me that he doesn’t mind if they copy,” said Dr Spanjaard. “He believes it’s a good way to learn.”
Many of Smit’s students, including I Made Sinteg, I Ketut Soki and I Nyoman Londo, are among the famous “Young Artists” from Bali. Their works are housed in museums and private collections of local and international art collectors around the world.
The paintings of these “Young Artists” are very different from the “Ubud Style.”
In “Ubud Style” paintings, men and women are the main subjects. Their facial expressions, postures and attires are usually depicted in minute details. Dark earthy hues or soft pastel colors dominate these paintings.
“Young Artists” paintings, by comparison, are dominated with bold vibrant colors. Human figures in their paintings blend smoothly with the surroundings.
“Nowadays, the ‘Young Artist’ style is probably the most popular modern style in Bali,” Dr Spanjaard said. “This genre of painting can be found in Indonesian souvenir shops around the world.”
Jakarta’s art-enthusiasts flocked to the opening of the exhibition in Erasmus Huis on Nov 23. Among them was Guruh Soekarnoputra, the son of Indonesia’s first president.
“It’s a very good and positive exhibition,” Guruh said. “The young generation can learn of the history of modern Balinese art and the people that inspired them.”
Bonnet drew a portrait of Guruh in his house in Laren in the Netherlands in 1974. That painting is still being displayed in Guruh’s private residence on Jalan Sriwijaya, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.
Guruh also keeps a couple of paintings by Arie Smit, in his private collection.
“We should all know and remember Bonnet and Smit as world-renowned painters that have made invaluable contributions to Balinese art,” the 60-year-old said.
The exhibition is on until January 14.
“I hope many people will come to the exhibition; schools, scholars and art-lovers,” van Zeeland said. “They can all learn something from the exhibition. And they can see all the paintings in the exhibition in the context of [modern Balinese art] history.”
See erasmushuis.nlmission.org for information