Welcome to the World of Don Antonio Blanco

After two weeks of being in Bali, the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum was the main highlight of my journey there. The “Dali of Bali,” as he came to be known, was as eccentric as he was brilliant (an unfortunate, but true, cliché of many world-renowned artists), and I was grateful to have finally met his acquaintance. If you’ve never heard of Don Antonio Maria Blanco (15 September 1912 – 10 December 1999), here’s your chance.

Upon entering the property of the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum, you may be confused as to where you are. The steep hill you have to climb (I suggest taking your scooter, if you have one, all the way up) is no different than the thousands of other physics-defying hills throughout the island, where you can feel as though you only have two choices: accelerate forward or fall backwards.

After walking through a door that opens up to the actual property, and paying a smiling woman at the ticket counter 80,000IDR ($6), you will be greeted by birds. Yes, birds. And not the normal, everyday type of black and brown birds, but large, colorful parrots and a species of hornbill specific to Indonesia. A member of the staff assured me they were harmless, so I, of course, got as close to them as possible and chatted it up with them. Despite my efforts, they didn’t seem the type to converse with strangers. Smart birds.

Two parrots at the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum
Two parrots at the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum

With the birds still hanging out, I surveyed the main yard of the museum, which had a fountain, a few spots with those cheesy cardboard cut-outs you can place your head into (fortunately no one was doing this) and a massive gate. But, not a gate like the door of a fence. A gate like an Arc de Triomphe or any other large structure you can walk under and through in order to arrive at another place. The particular gate at the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum is special for two reasons. One being that it’s not just some beautiful, arbitrary structure, but that it is actually his signature. The second being that it is, supposedly, the largest sculpture of a signature in the world.

Don Antonio Blanco’s Signature - the largest signature in the world
Don Antonio Blanco’s Signature – the largest signature in the world

The Dali of Bali

The museum itself is a richly decorated mansion adorned with turquoise columns supporting a second floor, aristocratic-looking (you know, velvet and unnecessary throw pillows with various insignias on them) couches and hundreds of paintings. When I first entered, I took it all in (it really is a sight in and of itself) and surveyed the paintings to my immediate right. They were stunning. One featured his daughter, Tjempaka, who was depicted as a Balinese dancer floating around a room burning incense. She was stunning and you could tell, just from the way he drew her, that he loved her. The light lines seemed as if they planned to evaporate within a few seconds of looking at them, which expresses a particular freedom that she may have enjoyed at the encouragement of Blanco.

One of the first of Don Antonio Blanco’s paintings I saw in the museum
One of the first of Don Antonio Blanco’s paintings I saw in the museum

As I moved from painting to painting, something stood out to me. Yet, I wasn’t sure what it was. You’re forbidden to take photos, but I still managed to take a bunch. I even went so far as to cough every time I took a photo so as to cover the sound of my Nikon’s shutter. Sneaky, sneaky.

The first room I entered gave me an altered perception of Blanco. There were collages all over the walls involving sand, writing (some if it beautiful, some of it crass, like a murmuring old man you want to ignore, but can’t) and many depictions of Eve, which I later learned was a subject he was particularly fond of. But, the writing was something I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Overlaying many of his collages were little poems, some rhyming, some general prose, and many dealing with women’s genitals. One even said, “Catch a n***** by his toe,” which sounded odd to me until I remembered that an earlier version of good old “eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” the children’s counting rhyme, went as such:

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,

Catch a n***** by his toe,

If he won’t work then let him go;

Skidum, skidee, skidoo.

That variant was in vogue in the 1888 version. History, man. I’d like to think Blanco was commenting on this.

One of the more “eclectic” pieces of Don Antonio Blanco’s that I saw
One of the more “eclectic” pieces of Don Antonio Blanco’s that I saw

Don Antonio Blanco’s Frames

The room of collages left me with the feeling that I had been subjected to hours upon hours of flashing lights and a cacophony of sounds blasting out of speakers at max volume. Fortunately, everything lightened up once I headed back into the main foyer (let’s use an aristocratic word for lobby). I viewed another, larger piece of Eve, with an intact apple in her hand, which gave the impression that Blanco was absolving women of original sin, which, in theory, is a very noble idea. But, then again, he’s a man, and it was man who wrote the Bible.

She also had a flask in between her legs, and, upon looking up, I saw the same flask physically placed on top of the frame that held the painting. That was when the lightbulbs went off – BOOM! ZING! ZOW! The “thing” that stood out to me, which I couldn’t put my finger on, was the frame. I spun around and looked at every painting again, and realized that the paintings were secondary to the frames. The frames were the real works of art. Some of them were constructed into shapes I had never seen before, others took on textures that set the stage for the painting inside (e.g. one was spiky and the painting it held was of Durian fruit, which is spiky), and others were just so beautifully crafted that I would’ve stared at them for just as long if they contained no paintings, at all. The paintings were the placeholders.

 

Most of Blanco’s amazing frames were in the main room, where the staff was located (no photos)
Most of Blanco’s amazing frames were in the main room, where the staff was located (no photos)

With this new revelation, my time in the relatively empty museum (there were only three other people) was intensified. One thing I also noticed was that he sometimes painted in more everyday styles (e.g. realism), but these works for few and far in between. It was his gaseous, ethereal style that I would characterize as his original stroke of genius. The style I’ll remember him for. One, at the risk of sounding like a snobby art critic (which I’m not), that embodied transience, which is an oxymoron in and of itself.

It’s evident that Blanco loved, and possibly, revered women. I would even go so far to say that he respected them. You can see this in his work. And also in his writings, despite, at times, coming off as a creepy old man. Take, for example, a caption below a painting of a young woman. In it, he says that a reporter in London called him up and said that, due to the writings that often accompanied his works, he seemed to wax a bit philosophical. So, the English reporter asked, “what is the meaning of life?” Blanco said, “eating a succulent mango with my right hand and fondling the firm buttocks of an 18-year-old…er…model… with my left…that’s the closest I’ve come to the meaning of life.” So zen.

After laughing a bit at how crazy this guy was, I ascended the wide, carpet-lined staircase to the second floor, which is not to be missed. It features a handful of portraits of his friends, some he made in Japan, which express the deep love he had for them. The second floor also features my favorite painting, a hyper-realistic work depicting a vibrant, intact coconut (think big and green), a dried out husk split in half and an orange. For some reason, I couldn’t move myself away. All I could say was, “Wow, wow, wow.” There was something about this piece that represented the whole of Bali to me. The frame, of course, was shaped like a coconut.

My favorite painting at the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum - the photo doesn’t do it justice
My favorite painting at the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum – the photo doesn’t do it justice

From the second floor, you can head up a staircase to the roof, but it was closed off when I went. After doing one last sweep of every work in the museum (I was hooked!), I went back out into the main yard and attempted to converse with some parrots locked up in cages. They were screaming very human-like screams, which made me feel for them.

Don Antonio Blanco’s Studio, and Michael Jackson

I was about to leave when I realized there were a few parts of the grounds I didn’t visit: the studio, amphitheater and family temple. The studio is easily missed, but not to be missed. Inside, there are hundreds of works laying around, which are, no doubt, a combination of Blanco’s and his son, Mario’s, who followed in his father’s footsteps despite Blanco’s protests. What’s also cool is a work that Blanco did of Michael Jackson, which MJ signed. There’s also a book featuring a note from Ingrid Bergman to him. The man was big time. The amphitheater and holy temple are pretty regular.

One thing I’ll note is that the whole museum, due to the Balinese heat, felt a bit warm. And, many of the works weren’t covered in glass, so, as I got closer to view the brushstrokes, I was literally breathing on them. I felt bad, but still did it. I’m sorry, Blanco.

If you’re ever in Bali, I highly recommend that you make the Don Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum one of your first stops. You won’t be sorry. But, if you have no plans to head to Bali, I’m sure you can run a quick Google Search to view many of his other works that I didn’t include here. Don Antonio Blanco (the title of “Don” was given to him by King of Spain Juan Carlos I) is gone but not forgotten.

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Mateo is a writer who quit his flashy job in NYC to live life on his own terms. He’s done everything from working at an orphanage in Nairobi to building a new university in Abu Dhabi to sleeping on volcanos in Guatemala. And right now, he’s working to get an agent for his first novel. His writing has been featured internationally in publications including Matador Network, Víkurfréttir, Caribbean News Now and Black & Abroad. Regardless of where he is, he’s always working. To keep up with him, follow him on Instagram & Twitter at @AskMateo and read one of his elaborate stories at SwagPapi.com

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