A biography about German-born artist Walter Spies, who spent around 15 years of his life on the island of Bali and stimulated new developments in Balinese art, was launched on Sunday evening at Puri Lukisan Museum in downtown Ubud, Gianyar. The 326-page book entitled Walter Spies: A Life of Art was written by Australian John Stowell and published by Jakarta-based publisher Afterhours books.
The book was officially launched by the German Ambassador to Indonesia, Dr. Norbert Baas, who praised it as “perfectly written and researched”.
“This book should be made available at every hotel on the island, schools and libraries, and also every house in Germany,” Baas said, adding that he was proud that the legacy of Spies is alive among Balinese artists and scholars.
The launching was hosted by Ubud royal family elder, Tjokorda Putra Sukawati, whose late uncle invited Spies to Ubud and late father was one of Spies’s closest local friends and patrons. Numerous
scholars, artists and senior ranking government officials were present at the event, during which a special performance of Kecak, an iconic dance inspired by Bali’s sacred chorus, the contemporary form of which was co-choreographed by Spies, was staged by an all female Kecak troupe.
“This is our homage to Spies. The museum also holds a special exhibition featuring the works of Balinese artists inspired by Walter Spies,” Tjokorda said.
Afterhours principal, Lans Brahmantyo, said that the book, which took three years to publish, was part of the publishing house’s move to produce world-class editions.
“I have a personal interest in this book, and that’s why we could overcome all the difficulties we faced,” Brahmantyo said, confessing that he was an admirer of Spies and for a long time had longed for a comprehensive book in English about Spies.
The regular edition of the book is sold at Rp 1,375,000 (US$147.12)while the collector’s edition is sold at Rp 50 million. The latter is a 50 x 40 cm pictorial narrative comprising pictures, paintings of Spies, his Balinese disciples and other world famous painters, including Chagall, and a brief note written by art scholar Jean Couteau.
“It’s been very long process since I first learned about Spies in 1980,” Stowell said of the book.
“I worked on it, on and off, for several years. It was pretty well completed around 2000, but it was very hard to find a publisher because Spies is simply not known in Britain, America or Australia. They know, they heard, perhaps, oh yes, Walter Spies, Bali. But there are only a couple of works in public collections,” he added.
Spies was the co-founder of the Pita Maha, an organization of artists in Ubud that was active in arts and culture in the 1930s and 1940s. It enjoyed an important position in the history of Balinese art development. The organization has played a substantial role in the renovation of Balinese paintings and in the emergence of maestros such as I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Kobot, Sobrat and Ida Bagus Made Polang. The group was initiated by the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet and the King of Ubud, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati.