Bali has for a hundred years nigh borne witness to a ground breaking metamorphosis of its arts in its many avatars.
During the 1930s when Balinese artists only created artwork dedicated to the Pura (temple) and Puri (Royal palace), there arrived a catalyst in the form of Walter Spies, a Russian-born German primitivist painter, that changed the face of the Balinese canvass forever. From then on the fusing of western and eastern art forms brought about a revolutionary profusion of colour, form and texture that left an indelible impression, not just in Bali but across the Indonesian archipelago and beyond. The artistic evocations moved beyond the homage to the Pura and Puri. Landscapes and images of daily life on the isle moved into this beautiful realm of creation and have become engrained in posterity.
According to the late Balinese artist who pioneered the ‘batik’ art technique on canvas, Nyoman Suradnya of Ubud, Walter Spies was greatly influenced by the French post-impressionist painter, Henri Rousseau. His (Spies) paintings reflect the intricateness of Persian miniatures and the ‘jungle themes’ of Rousseau. Along with Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati and Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet, Spies laid the foundations for the visual arts in Ubud. He co-founded the Pita Maha Artists’ Co-operative, which became the driving force for the development of art.
There were many western artists who made his acquaintance like Miguel Covarrubias, Colin McPhee, Jane Belo, Margaret Mead, Vicki Baum, and Theo Meier among others.
It was a time when Ubud truly came into being, the cultural epicenter on the isle. And it has remained so till today.
Spies constructed what he called a ‘mountain hut’ at Iseh in Sideman. The eyrie overlooked stunning lush green fields with the mighty Gunung Agung in the background, a breath taking panoramic view that exists even today.
Despite his fame and contribution to the arts, the Dutch colonials interned him as an enemy alien. Later they deported Spies. He drowned when the ship ferrying him and other prisoners was bombed by the Japanese. It sank near Ceylon.
Spies’ friend, the Swiss artist Theo Meier, leased Iseh and set about making additions to the place.
Today this important aspect of Bali’s history remains a monument to the great artists, albeit a bit different in atmospherics as they have departed.
For those that seek to step momentarily into the fabulous world of these artists, to feel the rhythms of history, they have merely to make a booking at Villa Iseh by WHM, which offers the Walter Spies Suite, Theo Meier Suite and the Margaret Mead Suite.
Villa Iseh by WHM is unique for it is a living historical space for the connoisseur to reflect on the life and times of the great artists that made Bali their home and contributed to its vibrant ethos; whilst enjoying the unchanged verdant landscape that they (Spies et al) saw from this very spot.
* Iseh im Morgenlicht (Iseh in The Morning Light) 1938, is perhaps one of the most famous paintings by Walter Spies.