Affandi's long and illustrious career was marked by his extensive travels, which became a significant source of inspiration for the artist. His travels to India, Europe, Brazil, North America, and Mexico, among others, produced some of his most exceptional works, but equally important are his regular sojourns to Bali, which he visited about three or four times a year.
"...[Affandi] did not come to Bali for the exotic "difference" the island is all too often expected to provide. He was looking for "situations", some Balinese, some not, but always ones which he could endow with personal signification. Working outdoors, he looked for scenes he could endow with personal symbolic meaning(s) – to connote human suffering or express the whirling of natural forces...The exotic side of Bali pleased him, but it does not seem to have ever been a determining factor. Even the Barong, which fascinated him, was to Affandi more a symbol – of the struggle of opposite forces – than an extraordinary, exotic event." (Jean Coteau cited in Sardjana Sumichan, ed., Affandi, Volume II, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Jakarta, Singapore, 2007, p. 39).
Balinese Dancer represents one of the more rare subjects in Affandi's corpus, particularly those from his Balinese oeuvre. Affandi painted a number of paintings depicting Barong and Rangda, Legong dancer, or even the Kecak dance themes, but portraits of a male Balinese dancer are indeed unusual. A painting entitled Penasar Dancer, dating from 1961, which was included in the acclaimed Singapore Art Museum exhibition, Affandi: A Painter Of Genius, in 2007 and was illustrated in Affandi's catalogue raisonné (in the volume that chronicles his Indonesian subjects), bears a resemblance to the present work with regard to the subject's costume and overall appearance. However, whereas Penasar Dancer illustrates a full-length image of the dancer, Balinese Dancer focuses on the upper half of the body, and thus captures the expression and soul of the figure in greater detail.
A penasar's role in dance performances is key. Setting the tone and pace of the dance, he is a combination of storyteller, royal servant, stage director and sometimes even music conductor. For this purpose the penasar wears a mask that covers only the top half of his face, which enables him to freely narrate or sing. In her dissertation, I Nyoman Catra expressed that "The penasar's function is to serve as a mediator between the invisible world of the gods/spirits and the visible world of the audience, as well as between man, his fellow man, and his environment... [The] penasar performs dialogues, songs, and jokes to unite good and evil, past and present, sacred and profane, and other dialectical concepts... he engages his audience in the struggle of finding balance between the principled understanding of their lives and their contemporary conflicts. (I Nyoman Catra, Penasar : a central mediator in Balinese dance drama/theater, Diss., Wesleyan University, 2005, web, 20 Aug. 2011).
The intricacy of the details in the present work is striking; from the jeweled pommel of the dancer's weapon to his elaborate neckpiece, headdress and mask, each object is rendered with passion and intensity and reflects the tableau's dramatic play of shadow and light. Rich tones of emerald, ruby and canary stand out against the shadowy background, evoking imageries of gold, jewels and sequins glittering in the glow of the flames.
Balinese Dancer was purchased by a distinguished Australian couple directly from the artist in 1964, not long after Affandi returned from his trip to Mexico, and the painting had remained in their collection until the present. The mesh of impasto that was created from excreting the paint directly from the tube forms a tactile and painterly texture, which expresses the sheer power of the work and pays tribute to Affandi's depth of feeling and life force. The strong riot of colours celebrates light, while the darker hues acknowledge the shadows and the mystery inherent in daily life, especially in Bali. Epitomising Affandi at his best, the drama and movement of Balinese Dancer above all express his great zest for life, the elemental power he felt from everything he saw and the passion in his impulse.
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