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After a long history of dark painting styles, it is refreshing to see an artist interpret the Bali landscape with a colourful impressionistic interpretation. It suits it so well.

I fell in love with the work of Arie Smit when I visited the Neka Museum in Ubud. His paintings are alive with movement in the way that Van Gogh's landscapes jump off the canvas.

Given his background, Smit's decision to let colour and celebration flow through his work fills out the viewer's appreciation. At least, it did for me. Enlisted to the military in the Dutch East Indies in 1938, Smit was captured by the Japanese invading forces and spent three and a half tough years in forced labour camps building bridges and roads in Singapore, Burma and Thailand.

After the war ended he decided to stay in Indonesia and taught graphic design, the subject he had studied himself, in Bandung. Eventually settling in Ubud, he was sponsored by Neka Museum founder Pande Wayan Suteja Neka, and became the founder of the “Young Artists” movement. The movement grew out of a necessity when the eruption of Mount Agung caused food shortages, and Smit taught two young duck herders how to paint so that they could earn a living. In recognition for his contribution to the development of painting in Bali, Smit received the Dharma Kusama award.

Arie Smit turned 99 this year. I became excited that I live so close to a master artist of his kind. His niece, Lucienne, manages a Facebook page about him, and is about to publish a book about his life and work. She herself is a talented artist with a studio in the Netherlands. We exchanged a few emails and as it turns out, Arie Smit is too frail for visitors and has lost his sight. What unimaginable loss this must be. But I am sure in his mind's eye he will always see the colourful Bali of his works. And that is a sure blessing. 

 

Update 30 March 2016:

Arie Smit passed away on 23 March, which fell on Nyepi, the annual day of silence. This year there happened to be a partial solar eclipse as well so he chose a spccial day indeed. Read Art historian Garrett Kam's article about the life of Arie Smit here .

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