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I Wayan Juniartha , The Jakarta Post , Ubud, Bali | Thu, 05/29/2008 10:34 AM | Surfing Bali
The ambience atmosphere on that Monday evening reminded George Wagner of the nights several decades ago, when he watched the Dutch artist Han Snel entertain his audience of foreign visitors packed in his open bar at the end of the muddy, narrow road now known as Jl. Kajeng.
At that time, the bar was the only place that had electricity in Ubud. With his loud voice and imposing demeanor, Han Snel regularly mesmerized visitors with his story on the Balinese culture and daily life.
"He was a generous person with a soft heart ... he had a loud voice , he liked people to shut up when he was talking ... he talked very loud," Wagner reminisced.
He then mimicked Han Snel's body posture when the late painter tried to attract his visitors' attention. Han Snel's grandchild, Bagus Wirajaya, listened to Wagner with a look of amazement on his face.
"I can't remember many people disliking him, I do remember a lot of people envying him for his art," Wagner added.
Han Snel was born in 1925 in Scheveningen, the Netherlands. In 1946 he arrived in Bali with the Dutch military forces and was tasked with fighting Japanese troops and the newly born army of the Republic of Indonesia.
Snel immediately fell in love with the island; a love so deep it saw him marry a local girl, apply for Indonesia citizenship and embrace Balinese Hinduism.
Yet, it was in his paintings that Snel's love for the island found its most breathtaking manifestations. His visual imageries, subdued colors and fine lines captured the essence of Ubud and the island as a place where serenity reigned and simple people led an honest life.
"He managed to capture that mysterious gloom that encapsuled Ubud," Wagner said.
The Australian-based painter had sought out Snel on his first visit to Ubud in 1971. Yet, it wasn't until the end of 1979 that he finally met Snel in person. The two artists, both of Dutch origin, instantly clicked and formed a warm friendship, with Wagner considering Snel as his mentor on his esthetic journey.
Although, he said wasn't quite sure whether Snel had ever considered him a protege.
"Recently, I saw many paintings here, including the ones that copied Han Snel's style, but none of them could capture the glaze, the green glaze emanated by this place the way Han did," Wagner said.
After Snel's passing in 1998, his beloved wife, Made Siti, kept his remaining paintings in their locked bedroom.
Wagner assisted Siti's children and grandchildren in convincing her to literally unlock the door -- to give art lovers another chance to see the fruits of Snel's labor and undying love for Bali.
As a result, an exhibition by Bali's respected scholar Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem, which opened Monday, features around 30 of Snel's paintings. The exhibition will run until June 26.
"The exhibition is our tribute to our grandfather, our way of expressing our love to him. I am very proud to have him as my grandfather," Bagus Wirajaya, who has a tattoo of an image inspired by one of his grandfather's sketches, said.
In the opening ceremony, Wagner delivered a moving eulogy.
"The displayed works are almost like a signature, an expression and impression of his soul ... He is a great artist with an immense diversity," he said.