This is where my latest work can be seen including step-by-step progress reports, news and merchandising as well as features on artists, living and dead who I would like to draw people's attention to. Please note all my images are covered by International Copyright laws. Copyright to other artists images resides with the artist or their estate, their inclusion on this blog a result of my missionary zeal and to no profit for myself!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Painter in Paradise - Walter Spies

Die Landschaft und Ihre Kinder
Walter Spies was born in Moscow in 1895, the son of a diplomatic family. His colourful life would make a great film but until then a very good fictionalised book about his life in Bali, Indonesia called "Island of Demons" by Nigel Barley will have to suffice. Although a work of fiction it has been very well researched and as there has been no proper artist biography yet published (that I know of) this book gives you an insight into his life and indeed how life was for the small group of Western artists that settled on the island in the 1930's. If one has past lives I can only hope that I was there at this time, certainly my Paradise!
Island of Demons
After an association with F.W. Murnau in Berlin when he helped the film director on "Nosferatu" he left for the Dutch East Indies in 1923 going first to Java and then settling in Bali in 1927. Spies immediately immersed himself in the fabulous culture of the island every aspect of which fascinated him. He learnt to speak Balinese and became an expert (and innovator) on Balinese culture, so much so that during the 1930's when the island was visited by the rich and famous such as Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and the heiress Barbara Hutton, it was he that was called upon to be their guide to all that the island had to offer.

Iseh in Morgenlicht
In addition to composing music, studying the flora and fauna, photographing and filming ceremonies and adapting ancient dances into new forms, he was a painter. Due to the constant distraction he did not produce a huge body of work, most of the paintings being sold to Western visitors which means that they are spread all over the world and is difficult to mount a proper exhibition.
I came across his work on my first visit to Bali in 1986 when I was an illustrator specialising in fantasy and Science Fiction and was immediately struck by it's strong use of design and contrast whilst still retaining a soft fantasy element. I started to adopt the way he used a layering of planes of distance in my own illustration work and in 1994 I went there with the specific intent of setting up a model in full dance costume for a picture painted purely for myself, the above "Leyak-Legong".
Jungle Scene

River Landscape
After what must have been an idyllic life from 1927 to 1939 life began to get difficult. As he was German and Germany had invaded Holland of which Bali was a colony, the Dutch authorities arrested him as a potential spy (like any other German national in the Indies) and he was sent to an internment camp in Sumatra. Although it was difficult he managed to keep on painting and composing music while he was there ("Sumatran Landschaft" below was painted there in 1941) but eventually due to the threat of the Japanese invading the Dutch East Indies all the inmates including Spies were put on board a ship bound for Ceylon in 1942. Tragically the ship was bombed one day out of port by a Japanese plane and started to sink. The Dutch crew abandoned the ship but failed to allow the prisoners out of their cabins so most of them  including Spies died drowning in a slowly sinking ship. Can you see now why his life would make a great movie?!
Sumatran Landschaft


  1. Hello Mark I've stumbled across your blog on the fevered search for Walter Spies prints that I can either buy or print myself. I live in Bali and although it may seem hard to believe there are no known prints of his work that I can find. Even online he seems to be so coveted that only very small file grace the pages. These are unfortunately not good enough for enlarging and printing - guessing that may be the point? If you know where I can access a good collection of his pictures (online) then I would be very grateful. Om Swastiastu
    Mark (my name too)

  2. I found this, is it any use to you? It has one of my favourites, "Iseh In Morning Light":
    Best wishes,