Tue, 15 Jan 2002

Bali, as seen through the eyes of Chinese artist Zhang Xihua

Yusuf Susilo Hartono, Contributor, Jakarta

Since last November, foreign painters have been exhibiting their works in Jakarta with Bali as their main theme. It began with a month-long exhibition, ending on Dec.15, featuring the works of the late Emilio Ambron of Italy at the National Museum.

Dutchman Paul Husner held a joint show with Indonesia's Abas Alibasyah at Galeri 678, on Jl. Kemang Raya, South Jakarta, for two weeks until Dec. 8, 2001.

Back in August, a professor at Amsterdam's National Academy of Art held a solo show entitled Bali Paul Husner, at Galeri Maxima, Jl. Arteri Pondok Indah, also in South Jakarta.

In recent days, Zhang Xihua, a Chinese painter residing in Singapore, has been having his turn. He is displaying his pieces about daily life in Bali at the Hotel Crowne Plaza. Opened on Jan. 7 by Stephen Hill, director and Unesco representative, the exhibition will run until Jan. 17.

Coming from a poor peasant family in Lioning province, Zhang, an alumni of Lu Xun Academy, became interested in Bali after discovering much of the Balinese tradition.

He observed all this in a traditional market, which inspired him to create an array of oil-paintings depicting marketplaces in various sizes, in a realistic-photographic style. Some have an impressionist style.

Lighting is an important element in Zhang's collection, as well as color treatment, depth perspective and the handling of details.

For unknown reasons, however, people in the market are portrayed mostly as tight-lipped even though they are engaged in haggling activities. This can be seen in Pasar Pagi Bali (Bali Morning Market), 249 x 119 cm, which carries a US$50,000 price tag.

Apart from the distinctive tradition, the painter, who was jailed during the period of the cultural revolution, is also attracted by the art of dancing, though some of his works presenting Balinese dancers lack the strength of character and at the same time the depth of understanding of Bali's philosophy of art.

Zhang paid a 15-day visit to Bali in 1994, but his paintings of markets and dancers were mostly produced in later years.

Without claiming that more frequent visits to a spot enables an artist to grasp its spirit, Ambron and Husner have proven that by mingling with locals for longer periods during their tours and sojourns, they were capable of understanding the essence rather than just the face value of Bali's art.

Keen to make further self improvement in painting, Zhang Xihua, in this first show organized by Louisa Chairil in Jakarta, displays 65 oil and watercolor paintings, which are generally "over priced".

In addition to the Balinese theme, he presents portraits of President Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz, and public figures Rizal Ramli and Rina Ciputra.

There are also pictures of diverse objects and themes turned out since the 1980s, notably those of Chinese imperial grandeur including Nuer Ha Chi and His Concubine, affection for peoples of different races, traditional rites, indigenous attire of China and India, scenery of the four seasons, animals' struggle for survival and blossoming bushes.

The warmth of a grandfather's compassion for his grandchild in Menjelang Upacara (Moments Before a Rite), a 76 x 56 cm watercolor offered at US$2,000, radiates a spirit that penetrates the barriers of ethnic origins, races, religions and nationalities. His watercolors are indeed more impressive.