Paul Husner's Bali

By Michelle Chin

Swiss artist Paul Husner has a solo exhibition at Galeri Maxima, Jakarta from 23 June to 23 August 2001. Born in Basel, Switzerland in 1942, Husner has been living in the Netherlands since 1964. In Amsterdam he studied graphic art and painting at the Gerrit Rietvald Academy and painting at the National Academy of Arts. He has received several art awards including the Urio Prijs in 1969, the Willink van Collen Prize in 1971, the Jeanne Bieruma Oosting Prize in 1974, and the Arti Medaille in 1987. From 1980-1988 he was Professor at the National Academy of Arts in Amsterdam where he taught drawing and painting.

Husner's works can be found in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), City Council (Amsterdam), Duta Fine Art Museum (Jakarta), Widayat Museum (Magelang), Neka Museum (Bali) and the Rudana Museum (Bali). His work is in private collections in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, USA, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Paul Husner
Kusamba: waiting for the Fish, 2000, oil on canvas, 81.5 x 122 cm

He has held numerous solo exhibitions all over the world, and has exhibited regularly in Indonesia and Singapore since 1996. He had solo exhibitions at Erasmus Huis, (Jakarta), Purna Budaya (Yogyakarta) and Duta Fine Arts Gallery (Jakarta) in 1996; Gallery Cemara 6 (Jakarta), Court of Law "Palace of Justice" (Amsterdam) and Mondriaan Huis (Westerlijk) in 1997; and Government House (Lelystad) in 1998. In 2000 he had solo exhibitions at Ganesha Gallery (Bali), Gallery Belvedere (Singapore) and Gallery Imago (Amsterdam).

From 1997, Paul Husner has been dividing his time between Amsterdam and Bali. After several short holidays in Indonesia between 1984 and 1996, the artist has settled down for longer periods in Ubud. From his home base in the village of Campuhan, he has been able to explore the rest of the island. Over the years his field trips to other parts of Bali have resulted in a considerable body of drawings and sketches. In the past, these drawings were transported back to Amsterdam and then transformed into watercolours or paintings. Now, Husner has the opportunity to immediately experiment with various techniques, or even to produce oil paintings in his studio in Bali. Husner's recent works are characterised by a continuation and elaboration of his favourite subject matter - landscapes, scenes of daily life, model studies, interiors, and still lifes.

Like fellow Swiss artist Theo Meier who lived in Bali before the Second World War, Husner does not seek to be a documentarian in any photographic sense. Rather, his works capture an almost mystical essence in a riot of colours and movement. Husner captures the beauty of Bali in all its diversity, and he manages to do so with humour and joy.
With his Balinese home as a starting point, Husner keenly observes the surrounding culture and nature. All details of daily life are fascinating to him, nothing is deemed unimportant. His observational powers and working method are strengthened by the sharp attention he focuses on transforming the seemingly normal into a special event. "It goes beyond watching. It means much more than that. It means that you have to motivate the observant side of yourself by reprogramming your consciousness," he says.

Although Husner's paintings seem at first glance to be poetically and spontaneously painted, their creation is preceded by a long process of analysis and preparatory sketching. Technical aspects, such as composition and structure, form an important element in his work. Sometimes he works on a painting for a few weeks, but it can also take many months or almost a year to complete a single work. Even so the final result never looks cramped or stiff. His compositions always remain fresh, detached and playful.

The effect of space in Husner's paintings is enhanced by carefully selected colours, evoking a special sense of plasticity. The combination of colours used by Husner results in a strong competition between colours without losing the unity found in his work. The overall harmony is also emphasised in another way. Husner usually covers the canvas with a coating of colour before he starts to paint. This under-colour has a special and very subtle effect. As the painting process develops various other colours are added, some transparent, some opaque. This technique creates a mysterious atmosphere of depth emphasising an almost physical presence of the depicted objects.

An appealing aspect of Husner's paintings would seem to be their “taste” and their richness of colour. With the priority he gives to colour, Husner has succeeded in making expression through colour a goal in itself. He is a painter who enjoys confronting and exploring colour, using its hues and tones as a means to express the state of his soul. Husner manages to express both his inner self and the beauty of the people, landscapes and objects surrounding him through the magic of colour.

Husner travels around the island of Bali in search of vivid new impressions to capture in his art. Influenced by the lush tropical splendour, his paintings are exuberant, even intoxicating. His landscapes look out onto a world where people are busy with their daily activities whether they are priests, fishermen, market sellers, dancers or musicians. Local life is one of his favourite themes. Glimpses of Indonesians from all walks of life are evident and range from rural to urban scenes. Husner always selects what matters to him at that specific moment: a detail in the architecture, a fishing boat, a mask, mountain, holy tree, stone sculpture, facial expression or a cloudy sky. Through his selection process Husner stresses the uniqueness of apparently normal forms, and makes us look at these forms as if it were for the first time.

Like many foreign artists before him who made their home and studio in Bali, Husner feels the natural sensuality of life in the tropics. While textures, forms and the play of light on surfaces are central to his creations, he digs deeper into the psychology of his subjects and is never simply a voyeur. Humour, wit and satire are abundant in his paintings. His lines are free and figurative. Art historian Dr Helena Spanjaard notes that his work cannot be labelled as naturalistic. Husner's observations are "characterised by an incredible intensity resulting from temporary fusion with the object he depicts," she says. "The inspiration emanating from his works reaches and seduces the viewer. One 'tastes' the flavour of his works, whether it is a portrait, landscape or still life."

Exhibition dates: 23 June to 23 August 2001.
Galeri Maxima, Jalan Sultan Iskandar Muda 88-D (arteri Pondok Indah), Jakarta Selatan.
Tel: (021) 720 9009 or 720 7171
Opening hours 10.00am to 7.00pm daily.

Michelle Chin is an arts management consultant based in Ubud, Bali. She has been living in Bali for most of the past twenty years.

[Published in Jakarta Kini, July 2001]