Category Archives: Expatriate Artist

Images of Bali fuse with Old Masters paintings to create landmark pictorials

AFTER THE HARVEST small                              After the Harvest, 2019 – Joel Singer

 

“I approach every magical day here in Bali with gratitude and wonder. Gratitude for having the joyful privilege of living on the gorgeous rice fields north of Ubud,” says Canadian avant-garde filmmaker and photographer Joel Singer who first visited Bali in 1979 and has lived here for the past decade.

“I usually awaken with the sunrise and have an early morning walk with my dogs out on the stunning terrain of the Campuhan Ridge,” he continues. “I’m always photographing daily life around me and images continually coalesce in my mind – likely and unlikely juxtapositions.”

Bali Turner small                               Bali Turner, 2019 – Joel Singer

 

“About seven years ago I was struck with a blast of realization while watching the golden evening light on the ripening rice fields,” explains Singer whom since the mid-1980s has experimented with cut and paste photographic collages. (long before the advent of Photoshop, the popular digital image manipulation computer program)

“I was then vividly reminded of some of the “Hudson River School” paintings, (the mid-19th-century American art movement of landscape painters influenced by Romanticism) and later during the rice harvest I was reminded of some of Breugel’s work.” (Pieter Breugel (1525 –1569) was the most significant artist of Flemish Renaissance painting who pioneered large compositions depicting landscapes and peasant scenes).

Bali Caravaggio (or the Feast of the Cockfight) - Joel Singer 2019             Bali Carrivagio (or the Feast of the Cockfight), 2019  – Joel Singer

 

“Then with the magic of Photoshop, I began to work with some of the images of the Old Masters paintings combining them with images of Balinese daily life. It seemed like an inevitable fit and I’ve continued to explore this merging ever since into creations I termed many years ago “PHOTAGES” describing my process of photo – collage – montage.”

Singer’s series “When the Old Masters Visited Bali” pays homage to the master European painters. In “Bali of Gold” multiple images of musicians and dancers are married with an abstract background of swirling energy and colour made famous by the iconic English landscape painter JMW Turner.

Bali Van Gough Revisited, 2018 - Joel Singer                    Bali Van Gogh Revisited, 2018 – Joel Singer

 

While in “Bali Caravaggio (or the Feast of the Cockfight)” he fuses two disparate worlds – gesticulating audience action images from a Balinese cockfight layered upon a composition by Caravaggio where men are sitting at a table engaged in animated discussion prior to a chicken feast. Darkness contrasts with light, emphasizing Balinese Hindu philosophies, and of course the visual technical prowess of the Renaissance maestro. Another composition features the smiling face of Mona Lisa on the surface of a flooded rice field that is reflecting the morning light, her raised finger points to the shining sun. Singer delicately fuses humour with natural beauty creating a heart-warming composition.

Humour again comes to the fore in his pairing of dancers from Matisse’s famous “Dance 1” with the frightening demonic creatures that star in the Balinese Ogoh-ogoh parade, together frolicking hand-in-hand in a circular romp. Other compositions are meetings of the Balinese landscape with rural and cultural activities that are either immediately arresting, or simply gracious and eternally beautiful.

UNDER THE VOLCANO small                        Under the Volcano, 2018 – Joel Singer

 

“When I ‘go to play’ up in my loft in my house overlooking the rice fields I try to surprise myself. To give vision to my dreams and the spirits which inhabit this place. I trust my intuition when approaching a ‘blank canvas’ and now, after 50 years, my ‘editing’ skills learned through filmmaking and skills of the juxtaposition of sometimes unlikely images are more finely honed with every passing year,” he says of his creative process. “I refer to my work as ‘images of elsewhere’. I play with time and sequencing, creating ‘eye music’. There is something about the timelessness of experiencing archetypal rural life, the rhythms of the planting and harvesting seasons suggest a blending of aesthetics.”

Monet Temple copy                                 Monet Temple, 2019 – Joel Singer

 

Born in Montreal, Canada in 1948 aged 12 Singer discovered the fascination of image-making. Later in college, he majored in fine arts and encountered the magic of film and cinema. He then yearned to participate in the great renaissance in avant-garde cinema stirring in the U.S.A. A film history class taught by the poet/filmmaker James Broughton (1913 – 1999) at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1974 then changed his life. During the 70s and 80s Singer showed his avant-garde films around the world while collaborating with his, then life partner Broughton, many of their films were collected by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the German Filmmuseum in Frankfurt and the Austrian Filmmuseum in Vienna.

TRIPTYCH small signed copy                                     Triptych, 2018 – Joel Singer

 

Singer gives us insights into the natural rhythms of life via his fresh and fantastic windows into the extraordinarily diverse visual and cultural, multi-dimensional worlds of Bali. “I’m not interested in the slightest in ‘reality’, it’s HIGHLY overrated,” Singer states.  “My desire is to make the invisible somehow visible through the magic of creating another ‘separate reality’. Through my work, I hope to bring some beauty into this very troubled world.”

A selection of Singer’s pictures is currently on display at the Tony Raka Art Gallery, in Mas, Ubud.

Mona Lisa and the rising sun. 2019 Joel Singer                           Mona Lisa and the Rising Sun, 2019 – Joel Singer

 

 

 

Words: Richard Horstman

 

 

Genevieve Couteau: the French female virtuoso that Bali art historians failed to cite

Huile sur toile le théâtre d'ombres 130-97 encadre                                 Painting by Genevieve Couteau

 

Volumes have been written about the foreign artists who have visited, lived and worked on the island of Bali during the first half of the 20th century. Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet and Theo Meier are celebrated icons, while Hofker, Covarrubias and La Mayeur are all praised for their special talents. These artists, however, are all male.

French female artist Genevieve Couteau first visited Bali in 1968 and was immediately fascinated by the island’s lush tropical environment and the rich culture, and immediately set forth exploring and reinterpreting the beauty she perceived. Returning briefly four years later, and again in 1975 when she resided in Ubud for 6 months, she made several other sojourns up until 1984. Even though Couteau’s creativity was phenomenal and she was the only European female artist to visit Bali, she is one important person the art historians have failed to cite.

Balinese priest sketch by Geneieve Couteau                       Sketch of Balinese Priest by Genevieve Couteau

 

Art inspired by post-war Universalism represents the period 1945 -1970. Its ideology is underpinned by a rejection of reality and nationalism – the type of patriotism that prevailed in Europe, the UK and America during the 1930s – 1940s. It emphasized a greater worldview with a focus upon understanding people from other cultures. Asians were seen as offering other, mysterious access to the spiritual realms. It was not the “exotic difference” that mattered – it was the exploring of different types of universal endeavour. The art genre idealized “the other”, while surpassing the prejudices.

Born in Paris in 1924 Couteau was a star graduate from Beaux Arts, the Art College of Nantes-Métropole with a national and international reputation. Her outstanding talent was quickly recognized by the art establishment when she won the Prix Lafont Noir et Blanc (Lafont Black and White Award) in 1952 with her captivating drawings in the surrealism style. She became a noted figure of the Paris art scene aged in her mid thirties.

"Barong Landung" - Geneieve Couteau                                 Barong Landung – Genevieve Couteau

 

It was in the Southeast Asia, however, where Couteau’s creativity ultimately bloomed. Her opportunity arose to travel and experience the treasures of the East first visiting Laos in 1968 during the Vietnam War upon the invitation of the neutralist Prime Minister of the time.

Later that year she ventured to Bali. Both countries had a major impact upon Couteau, the vivid colours and light, the overwhelming sense of the spiritual, and the gentle natured people.

Couteau’s ouvre developed from pencil, charcoal and pastel sketches to oil paintings in subtle colours, or in her dynamic, fauvism inspired palate. Her compositions progressed, some into complex, futuristic works of the universal totality of nature revealing the sparkling cosmos, men and women depicted in harmony, and stunning landscapes with backgrounds of flowing patterns, similar to exotic textiles and batiks. Abstract and surreal elements were always key to the strength of her larger compositional works.

Geneieve Couteau (1925 - 2013)                                         Genevieve Couteau

 

Couteau’s depictions of the Balinese, especially the woman challenged the stereotypes, presenting distinct messages without an agenda. Her woman’s worldview resonated with humanism, was non-sexual, while understanding and accepting dissimilarities and highlighting equality of identity. Couteau reconfigured the visual narrative regarding women who are often misinterpreted or unacknowledged. Her feminine approach never exploited the beauty of a woman’s body.

Her painterly responses to Bali’s potent, unseen worlds are indeed intriguing. What prevailed was her unrivalled ability to capture the ‘spiritual’. Couteau’s magical scenarios and figurations glow with an unusual, yet distinct atmosphere – her otherworldly creatures often gaze out from the canvas with mysterious, shamanic eyes. Some of her impressions of Balinese characters stand alone within a historical descriptive context. In “The Old Lempad” depicting the famous architect and modern art master I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862? – 1978), he appears as an alien-like figure, in an after life manifestation. Her portrait of the extraordinary young painter Made Sukada (1945-1982) depicts a face beaming with love, intelligence and light, his glowing eyes reveal the presence of a wise and old soul.

Balinese woman and child - Geneieve Couteau                       Balinese Woman and Child – Genevieve Couteau

 

Attuning with the metaphysical forces and pure potential her work stylistically evolved – transcending into the mystical. Her depictions, real and imagined, of Bali life in her fresh and fascinating manner distinguished her from the acclaimed painters who preceded her, along with her peers, defining her as one of the most outstanding expatriate artists on Bali.

Couteau exhibited extensively from 1960 – 2000, in Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Vietnam, New York and Bali. Her talents extended to writing books and theatre, designing and making sets and costumes for performances. In a tribute to the visionary artist who passed away in Paris in 2013, seventy of Couteau’s works were displayed at the National Gallery of Indonesia, in Jakarta, early in 2018.

Geneieve Couteau                                Painting by Genevieve Couteau

 

Entitled “The Orient and Beyond” her exhibition was a collaboration with Institut Francais Indonesia. Couteau’s works are collected by museums in Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Venice, Bulgaria and one of her beautiful Bali inspired paintings is on permanent exhibition in Ubud at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA).

Sketch by Geneieve Couteau                             Sketch by Genevieve Couteau

 

Painting by Geneieve Couteau

 

Oil on canvas painting by Geneieve Couteau                                      Paintings by Genevieve Couteau

 

 

Words:     Richard Horstman

Images:   Courtesy of Jean Couteau