In Two Balinese Men, Bonnet’s enthrallment with the unique balance of work and rest, labour and play that meaningfully guides the Balinese lifestyle is uncovered. Illustrating two men, rather than a single sitter, the work is a rare occurrence in the artist’s oeuvre that reveals his enduring fascination with the physicality of the native dwellers.
An endearing sense of simplicity and artlessness exudes from the body language of the two men, they modestly shy away from encounter. Appearing to be in a state of paused repose, the titular figures are captured in the midst or after a long day in the fields. Typical of Bonnet’s portraits, the individuals neither engage each other nor the viewer. The man on the left bears a straw hat and a farming hoe, as he glances slightly over his shoulder in a moment of expectancy. His counterpart wears a purple headscarf, his expression rendered with a touch of melancholy, or perhaps fatigue. While they appear somewhat aloof, gazing into the distance, lost in their own thoughts, their close arrangement reveals a sense of assurance and an unspoken bond that brings the Balinese community together. Mesmerizing yet unperturbed, the two figures permeate with an aura of grace.
Further emphasizing his admiration for the grind and spirit of the local people, Bonnet draws them in the highest standards of classical beauty. Unlike other Indo-European artists who purposefully stylized figures, Bonnet strictly adhered to the formal aspects of realism. In a masterful handling of chiaroscuro, he renders the men’s slightly sunken cheeks, lean muscles, dark tanned skin and piercing eyes with a naturalist touch. Capturing impeccable corporal form and its nimbleness with technical verisimilitude, Bonnet imbues this work with a wonderful three-dimensionality. The stark contrasts of light and dark, bring the muscular contours of the workers’ bodies to the fore, and emphasise the strenuous nature of their labour.
Unique to Bonnet’s technique is his immense control and deliberate applications of blue crayon – used to build depth in the shadows and heighten highlights on the figure’s bodies. The two men emerge from a background of Prussian blue which serves to tie the overall composition together. Their torsos twist in varying directions, lending a subtle sense of movement within the otherwise closely cropped vignette. Likewise, the farming hoe that cuts diagonally across the paper, adds depth to the deceivingly simple drawing.
Indeed it is in Bonnet’s unabashed devotion to life’s natural simplicities that imbues his works with such poignancy – preferring to present the indigenous people with realism, rather than through rose-tinted glasses. By depicting the titular figures with such finesse, Bonnet almost exalts these common folk, providing them with a sense of dignified purpose and majestic elegance.
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