28 August 2014

The Way to Paradise

Escaping everything that is artificial and conventional: for some people, and probably for me too, that means sailing away to far-off islands, leaving Western civilisation, never to return.

Paul Gauguin, a renown French painter of the end of the 19th century, left wife and children – or rather was asked to leave them – and his job as a stockbroker to do just that, spending the rest of his life in Tahiti (mostly). Native women – sometimes girls – dotted his experiences, becoming subjects for his paintings.

Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali

A woman, his grandmother Flora Tristan, who died before he was born, also sought an ideal life outside of native France, although in her case it meant travelling to Peru and her mission translated in advocating for women’s rights and creating an independent workers’ union.

Paul Gauguin's and Flora Tristan’s parallel quests are analysed in Mario Vargas Llosa’s excellent novel, The Way to Paradise, which I naturally thought of when going over my pictures of Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum. Blanco, a painter of Spanish and American descent who died 15 years ago, was inspired by Gauguin and had initially planned to also go to Tahiti but eventually established himself in Bali where he married a traditional native dancer.

Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali

Women are the main subject of his hundreds of paintings displayed in the impressive museum Blanco built in Ubud, in central Bali, a museum that was opened just a year before he died. Blanco also paid special attention to the frames of his paintings, designing them with much creativity and embellishment. I actually think every single frame is unique, so there’s a lot to notice even if one is insensitive to his ode to feminine beauty.

Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali

Photos are unfortunately forbidden inside the sumptuous theatre-like museum. The building itself is not without reminding Dali’s extravagant style: one cannot avoid the massive human-shaped structure at the entrance, nor the dozen gilded statues of Balinese dancers on the rooftops.

I’ll most likely end up living in Bali one day too. How can remain unmoved by the diversity of the island: from surprising water palaces to photogenic temples, both Hindu (here, here, here and here) and Buddhist, from colourful spider boats to traditional lifestyles and the chase of dolphins. And you haven’t even yet seen my photos of tropical birds and rice paddies. Last but certainly not least, how could one be indifferent to that sway of the hips of legong dancers (stay tuned...)?

Am I crazy? “I don't do drugs, I am drugs”, Dali is quoted as having said.

Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali
Antonio Blanco’s “Renaissance” museum in Ubud, Bali