- Theo Meier
- Barong Dance
- Signed as a dedication to Princess Christine Rangsit and dated 1976
- Oil on canvas
- 150 by 100 cm.; 59 by 39 1/4 in.
Private Asian Collection
Theo Meier was one such artist whose oeuvre was dedicated to the island. A keen admirer of Paul Gauguin’s artworks and who sought to emulate the Post-Impressionist painter’s nomadic spirit as an artist-adventurer, Meier travelled to the places that Gauguin had visited, wanting to recreate those worlds within the narratives of his own paintings. He soon decided that it was Bali that embodied all of his artistic ideals. The Swiss painter arrived to the island in 1935. “I was carried away into another world... At the sight of Gaugin's paintings, I suspected that something existed there with which a painter must instinctively feel himself at home,” the artist said3. However Japanese occupation during WWII in 1941, and later Indonesia’s struggle for independence in 1945, had a drastic effect on the pre-war innocence of the island. After twenty years in Bali, the artist relocated to northern Thailand where he resided for the rest of his life.
The present painting entitled Barong Dance is a classic piece from his oeuvre in the fact that the work remains faithful to Meier’s favoured colours and subject matter. The work may also be seen as one man’s memory of a certain place and time. However the painting transcends its anthropological purpose to provide a glimpse into Meier’s imagination of how the island of Bali appeared to him: as a myth, as a fiction, and subsequently as his own Eden. The painting is a depiction of the Barong dance performance that originated in the Gianyar region in Ubud. A blend of animism and Hindu influences, Barong is a key character in Balinese mythology. The lion-like deity with a red mane and white fur is celebrated as the king of the spirits and largely seen as being the epitome of good in the island’s folklore. The dance represents the battle between good versus evil, with Barong fighting Rangda who represents all the sin and darkness existing within the world.
Meier’s collection of Bali-inspired paintings remained a faithful homage to Gauguin’s cultivated aesthetics and styles. He embraced bold hues that reflected a romanticized view of the natural environment and people, rather than adhering to the true colours of the scene at hand. Women were featured prominently in the paintings, the artist celebrating their feminine charm in a variety of archetypes, such as the dancer, goddess, or mother. Paintings like Women in the Garden, Balinese Maidens as well as Flower Offering Ceremony in Luang Temple Organized To Call the Rainy Season Which Will Grow the Rice, all allude to the female spirit that captured the artist’s imagination and had a lasting impression upon his figurative works.
Meier’s paintings were largely grounded in reds, oranges, pinks, and yellows—as if the audience were watching the island’s existence take shape beneath the light of the setting sun, or conversely, as seen perhaps through rose coloured glasses. Reality and fiction intertwined to become an idealized portrayal of a foreign locale with its unique traditions, values, and mythology. “I had in mind a country in which the painter lived, as one might say, unobserved but belonged in his activity to the whole. Perhaps I had also hoped to find a country where the painter was shaped by the power of its culture,” the artist said4.
Many Western artists who subscribed to the Mooi Indies artistic philosophy were also inspired by Gauguin and his travels to French Polynesia and Tahiti, and it may be said that it was the French artist with his paintings of exotic destinations and flora and fauna who influenced a generation of European artists to leave behind their homes and journey to the Far East. During the 1930s, Bali was the watering hole for many foreign artists, including Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Adrien Le Mayeur, and Willem Gerard Hofker. Each individual brought with them their personal ideals and expectations, and reconfigured these notions into island narratives. These paintings provided a revealing look into the tropical landscape as seen through a foreign perspective. Curiously while they all lived in the same location and socialized occasionally, each artist’s oeuvre was distinctly different in tone and mannerisms.
Within this vein, the Swiss artist’s body of works are most reminiscent of Gauguin’s painterly style, in their choice use of colours and composition, as well as attention to local traditions. As seen in Barong Dance, Meier’s respect and understanding towards the local culture is very much present in his Bali-inspired works, just as are the beautified renditions of the Balinese women and the lush topography. Akin with Gauguin’s depictions of exotic locales and their people, as seen in Arearea Bo Varua Ino (Reclining Tahitian Women) and Deux Tahitiennes (Two Tahitian Women), Meier’s own depictions of Bali centres around an artistic appreciation for the beauty of the natural landscape that is paired with an adventurer’s eye to capture the romance and vibrancy of these places.
“When I [travelled to] Tahiti, I was very disappointed that the culture I had dreamed about no longer existed there, but I did observe the components that Gauguin had used to build up his beautiful paintings”, Meier recalled. “He showed me tropical Nature, and this influenced me so enormously that I began looking for a place where perhaps more culture had survived, but in the same natural setting. That place was Bali. There I was shaped, and became what I am today”.5
1 Umberto Eco, Inventing the Enemy and Other Occasional Essays, Mariner Books, New York, 2013, pg. 213
2 Refer to 1, pg. 192
4 Refer to 3
5 Klaus Wenk, Theo Meier, Bilder Aus Den Tropen - Pictures From The Tropics, Verlag Stocker- Schmidt Ag Dietikon-Zurich, Hamburg, 1980, P.30