Thursday, June 25, 2015

Walter Spies and Balinese art

Bali is an island in Indonesia that attracted Walter Spies, a Russian born, German artist who settled in the colonial Dutch East Indies from 1923 on. Adored by the Balinese, Spies was the co-founder of the Pita Maha artists' cooperative, he shaped the development of contemporary Balinese art and established the West's image of Bali that still exists today.

As a young man, Walter Spies moved in high society; the avant garde culture of pre-war Moscow, then in Berlin and Dresden, Germany, to where he moved in 1918.
However, by 1923 he no longer felt at home with all the decadence of Europe. In his journal he wrote: ""I then decided to just go somewhere, anywhere, to a faraway land. And after going on a challenging and formidable journey as a sailor in a cargo vessel I arrived in Java, where I decided to jump ship!""
Arriving in Bali to live permanently in 1927 after a stint as court conductor for the Sultan of Yogyakarta's European orchestra, this Russian-born son of a German businessman-diplomat settled in Ubud as a painter, where with Tjokorda Agung Sukawati he eventually founded the Pita Maha Arts Society, the catalyst of modern art in Bali...
Spies's stay in Bali ended in 1939 when he was taken to court and jailed for homosexuality during a morality-driven witch hunt by the Dutch government. While imprisoned in Surabaya, he painted his best work, hailed as magical realism, depicting changes in feelings and subconscious attitudes: The Landscape and its Children. -  - Walter Spies: The legacy of a banished demon by Kadek Krishna Adidharma, Contributor, Ubud
Die Landschaft und ihre Kinder - The Landscape and its Children

One of my favorite artists, Walter Spies, lived in Bali. Here are two of his paintings in Paul Spies' house in Jakarta. The photograph below is in the Tropenmuseum collection. The Walter Spies painting is called In the Morning Light

In the Morning Light

 Desa auf dem Dijengplateau (1924)

Balinese Landscape with Temple and Volcano (date unknown)

Sawas im Preangergebirge (1923)

Die Landschaft und ihre Kinder - The Landscape and its Children
Sumatranische Landschaft (1941)
Preangerlandschaft (1923)
Die Kleinen Nebel (1938)
Balinese Legend (1928)
Palmendurchblick (1938)
Iseh im Morgenlicht (1938)
Lanschaft mit Schattenkuh / Landscape with a Cow’s Shadow (1939)
Heiliger Wald Bei Sangsit (1930)
Recommending Geff Green's website of Walter Spies paintings and drawings

Walter Spies

The hands,1939

Prelude: Letter from the Surabaya Jail

This excerpt from the Prelude opens “Imagining Gay Paradise” with the gay artist Walter Spies in jail in the Dutch East Indies, victim of a Nazi-inspired “morals scandal” that had used fears of a “triple taboo” against homosexuality, inter-racial relations, and cross-generational male friendships to politically undermine the Dutch government. Spies  wondered about a world where all had to fit a single monumental template of nature dictated by tyrannical minds. He preferred to celebrate the magical realities of miniature queer patterns of life.
Scherzo für Blechinstrumente / Scherzo for Brass Instruments (1939)
His Scherzo for Brass Instruments, reputedly painted in a half-trance state, contains many incarnations of the artist as he explores an inner landscape from various points of view.
In a letter to Carl Gotsch, Spies describes the process of painting Scherzo as a spiritual and sacred purification of the soul akin to rebirth: ""The funny thing is, I really feel as if this is my very first painting. I really feel as if I am beginning a new life.""
Dedicated to Leopold Stokowski, then the conductor of Chicago's Philharmonic Orchestra, Scherzo was shipped from Surabaya to America, but never reached its destination. Today's reproductions are from photographs taken by Spies in prison.  - Walter Spies: The legacy of a banished demon by Kadek Krishna Adidharma, Contributor, Ubud
Photo credit: Miguel y Rosa Covarrubias 

Walter Spies - a life in art by John Stowell

When he died 70 years ago, the artist Walter Spies was known to only a few close friends. Now he is prized as one of the finest painters of the tropical landscape. This was one of many gifts that he made available to the people of Bali in the years between 1927, when he first settled there, and 1940 when he was interned as an enemy alien. In the turmoil of war and the turbulence of the post-war years, his fate remained for a time unknown and his life and deeds in Bali gradually took on mythic proportions. He was remembered almost as a founding figure, one who had taken the arts of Bali to unprecedented heights. There was some truth in this hyperbole; he had indeed made a massive contribution to the reputation of the island as a centre of special artistic excellence during the 1930s. He was not alone in this endeavour. Together with the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet & Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati he gave the initial impetus to the flowering of the visual arts in Ubud and district. His films & recordings brought his friends the Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias & the Canadian composer Colin McPhee to Bali. The Covarrubias cultural guidebook, The Island of Bali, has accompanied generations of tourist visitors for the past seventy years, while McPhee joined Spies in stimulating growth of musical culture in the Regency of Gianyar and furthered it in the West with his own compositions. The reputation of Ubud as a hub of cultural tourism continues to the present day. Its status is accepted by the Indonesian Government for its contribution to the island economy. This 344-page book, which at 24x32cm (portrait), present a fully-documented biography in an 80,000-word text. It places the works & related documents in chronological order & supplies a catalogue of all the known works and an analytical index. The biography traces the remarkable life of an exceptional individual whose career touched at many points the challenging issues of the first half of the 20th century.


At the agung rai online gallery there are examples of paintings that were influenced by Walter Spies. One of my very favorite contemporary Balinese painting styles is called Pengosekan, from the village in Bali. the images are full of green leaves, birds, creatures, in a lush complexity. 

In Penestanan village there is a painting style known as Young Artist, initiated by Arie Smit, a Dutch artist who lives in Bali. Young Artist painters use unusual colors such as red for the sea, blue for human skin, yellow for the sky, etc.

There is the Batuan style, from the village of Batuan, which generally has intricately detail and a darker look.

Here are some examples of the Pengosekan style.
By Dewa Putu Sena
By Dewa Putu Sena
By Galuh, in the Walter Spies' style
By I Gusti Ngurah Kepakisan 
Photo credit: Green Field Hotel, Ubud, Bali
Photo credit: Green Field Hotel, Ubud, Bali
Photo credit: Export Bali
Painting by I Gst. Kt. Selamet
Via Artisans of Bali on eBay
Via Artisans of Bali on eBay
Via Artisans of Bali on eBay
Via Artisans of Bali on eBay
Nyoman-sinom-120×62-rajapala at the Tari Gallery
Here is an example of the Batuan painting style

I Wayan TAWENG. Crayon et acrylique sur papier. Signé.32 cm x 22,5 cm 
Kris Dancy by Ida Bagus Sena
Wayan tino-Barong dance-70×90 from the Tari Gallery

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