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Bali Blog - Article About Bali Holiday Island

Walter Spies Spent His Life in Bali

4 August 2013

In talking about Balinese traditional art, the name Walter Spies can not be forgotten. His role was very important toward the flourishing of arts, particularly the painting and performing arts. For instance, the Kecak dance is now preferred by local and international tourists. This dance obtained a dancing composition touch from Walter Spies. Similarly, the art of Balinese traditional painting, especially for artists who are domiciled in Gianyar region.

Along with Rudolf Bonnet (Dutch painter) and Tjokorde Gde Raka Soekawati, he established an organization of local artists with the name of Pita Maha. Walter Spies (1895-1942) was an artist and a German national. He was born in Moscow and distinctly loved the field of arts. Walter Spies, in his life, was known as a musician and expert at playing piano. Apart from playing music, he often painted. He came to Indonesia when he was interested in the story of his colleagues on the paradise island in the East that was colorful and sunny.

When he came for the first time to Indonesia, he played piano accompanying a film show in a cinema in Bandung (West Java). Then he moved to Yogyakarta (Central Java) to train the musical orchestra at the Royal Sultanate of Yogya. There, he studied the Javanese gamelan seriously. His imagination on colorful and sunny havens, made him to come to Bali. In 1925, on account of the invitation of Tjokorde Gde Raka Sukawati, in which, at the time, was the head of Ubudís sub district, Walter Spies visited Bali. In fact, the story he heard previously about the island of Bali was genuinely a reality. Walter Spies was astonished to see the beauty of Baliís nature that was full of flowers and sun. The life of its agrarian and religious community was able to make his body tremble. Walter Spies was interested to stay in Bali. He had fallen in love with Bali, an island of Indonesia with the majority of its people being Hindus.

In 1927, having asked for permission to the Sultan of Yogya, Walter Spies returned to Bali. He stayed permanently here in Ubud. Here, he was introduced by Soekawati to two Ubud artists, namely Anak Agung Gde Sobrat and Anak Agung Gde Mregeg. The two artists showed their paintings of the wayang style that took the theme of the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. Walter Spies commented and gave input to the painters. He suggested that the style and theme of the paintings should be developed to be more modern. For instance, the wayang style was changed into a realistic human figure, and the theme of painting changed into that of daily life in Bali. It seemed that the input of Walter Spies was positively responded to by both artists of Ubud. So, a new painting style was born in Ubud.

1929 coincided with the arrival of the Dutch born painter, Rudolf Bonnet, and a new painting style was developed. Furthermore Rudolf Bonnet gave a plastic anatomical touch to the human picture and more modern coloring techniques. In 1936, Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Tjokorde Gde Agung Soekawati with some other Ubud painters established the first art organization in Bali, Pita Maha. This organization united painters and sculptors in Ubud and its surrounding. On the attempts of the three figures, Pita Maha greatly developed. From it, there were many prominent artists born in Bali that came to be famous even overseas.

Walter Spies died after becoming a Dutch captive. Van Imhof the vessel that conveyed him from Padang (West Sumatra) to Ceylon was attacked by a Japanese raider. The vessel along with its entire passengers sank. Even though the body of Walter Spies disappeared swallowed by the Indian Ocean, his name will always be remembered in the development of fine arts in Bali.

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