When the Catalonian painter Antonio Blanco first set foot in Bali all those years ago, Kuta beach was still a tropical hideaway and the only Bintangs on the island were the stars in the sky. But things change quickly – some even call it progress - and today the south of Bali is overrun with hordes of beer guzzling tourists on the razz.
In many ways, Blanco can be considered as one of the earlier pioneers - and even architects - of today’s gaudy and hedonistic tourist culture that has taken root in Bali. Yes he was a hugely talented artist, but beneath the veneer of baroque intellectualness, Blanco was, at heart, a pornographer - albeit a highly talented one at that - a man so intrigued by the earthly beauty of the female Balinese that he dedicated his life to recording this beauty on canvass. But who can blame him, eh?
Blanco thankfully retained a fair number of his artworks and they are now on glorious, permanent display at a museum which was built on the grounds of his former home in the artisan village of Ubud.
The museum is well signposted and even the navigationally-challenged will have little difficulty in getting there.
After forking out Rp50,000 for a ticket (Rp30,000 if you a domestic tourist), you’ll be escorted to the garden area and asked if you’d like to “hold a few exotic birds”. These are, alas, of the feathered variety – the real thing is confined to the museum itself – and include a rather splendid looking cockatoo and a wonderful bird of paradise.
Once you’ve finished playing with the birds, it’s time for a bit of refreshment and a welcome drink - nice touch that; even though it is an ice lemon tea they give you and not a double G&T.
Next the museum itself - and before you’ve even gone in you know you’re in for a real treat by the simply majestic and elaborate entrance that towers over you from above.
Inside and you find yourself in a large and dimly lit room which is pleasantly cool. Opera music plays in the background and creates a mood of sophisticated and elegant charm. The large room, which is circular in shape and has a very high ceiling, is adorned with Blanco’s wonderful artworks and it isn’t very long before you realize that Blanco was never in any doubt whatsoever about his sexual identity (as many artists are) – virtually all his pictures are of voluptuous Balinese women in the nude.
There is plenty of potent imagery in this museum and many of the nudes are not painted alone but accompanied by large glass vessels – like bottles and jugs – often located between the women’s legs. Blanco definitely had sex on the brain.
Besides being a fantastic painter Blanco was also a noted philosopher and a talented poet to boot. Take his wonderful painting entitled “The Meaning of Life”, for example. In a note attached to the painting, Blanco attempts to answer that old philosophical chestnut that has been troubling philosophers since time immemorial:
"Antonio, you are rather Philosophic; what have you found to be the meaning of life?," asks an art collector from London.
Blanco’s answer: "When I am biting into a ripe succulent Mango in my right hand, and at the same time fondling (with my left hand) the firm buttocks of an 18 year girl…..er…..model, THAT I have found to be the closest THING to a MEANING FOR LIFE".
Such honesty strikes a cord with many and it’s interesting to note that some of Blanco’s most noteworthy admirers include high ranking Indonesian politicians such as the legendary first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, and perhaps, a little more surprisingly, the country’s current President SBY, who visited the museum and left a message of support. Other Antonio Blanco fans include the late Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.
All in all, this is a wonderful museum and well worth a visit.
And the next time you happen to bite into a fresh and succulent mango? Well…
The Blanco Renaissance Museum, Campuhan, Ubud, Bali. Telp: 0361 975502