What do E.T, Michael Jackson and naked women have in common? If you visit Blanco Renaissance Museum you will find out, or maybe you’ll still be puzzled.
Artist Antonio Blanco (1911-1999) born in the Philippines to Spanish parents, was an eccentric and flamboyant character by all accounts, often seen decked out in a red beret and cape and answering to the rather grandiose moniker “The Fabulous Blanco”.
Arriving in Bali in the early 1950s where he met and married his muse Ni Ronji, a famous Balinese dancer 25 years his junior. Blanco moved in high circles, and the King of Ubud granted him land on the hill overlooking the Champuan River, in the hope that his fame would boost tourism in Ubud. His dream to open a museum was eventually realised after his death by his son Mario, the current torchbearer of his legacy, also a painter.
The Blanco Renaissance Museum is a temple of exotica and erotica, ostentatious and theatrical like the man it’s dedicated to. Up a steep driveway where an arched gate welcomes you to “the home, the studio, the galleries, the garden, the Balinese family and the creative works of the artist”. A circular portal leads into the opulent tropical grounds, replete with a menagerie of exotic birds including large and colourful macaws, a greater bird of paradise and rare Bali starlings. To the left, with views over Ubud, the Rondji Restaurant offers “modern Balinese” and European fine dining. Stop by for a welcome drink included in your ticket.
The museum is entered via a giant Rorschach-like figure gateway — Blanco’s signature doubled (look sideways). Carved nagas and vibrant temple umbrellas line the grand stairway. The mosaic-glass domed gallery displays works on two levels with two spiral staircases leading up to the mezzanine. A third level has no obvious entrance nor any work on display, perhaps the realm of the Gods. From the mezzanine, you can climb to the roof decorated with golden guardians and feast ones eyes on the Ubud scenery.
Inside, dramatic opera music plays in the background, and rococo style lounges invite you to indulge in the fantasy. Exhibited on rich-coloured walls, the elaborate carved frames form as much of the work as the actual paintings. Work is not dated, and only a few painting have titles (in English) on small brass plaques. Early work is a celebration of the nude female form (mostly his wife Ni Ronji) and still life. Expressive line work mixes with other formal realist studies.
Along with the nudes, for which he is well known, tender portraits of his children are notable. Later work, exhibited in an annex off the main domed gallery is more influenced by popular culture, and includes collages and illustrated poetry full of symbolism and riddles. The artist’s studio is open “as he left it” (he was a rather neat artist), giving an insight into the inner creative personality, rather than his flamboyant exterior. The smell of oil paint permeates and a sunken pit enabled Blanco to paint his subjects from eye level. A smaller adjoining gallery displays Mario Blanco’s impressionist still life studies.
Exiting through the gift shop, a collection of bric-a-brac and family photographs line the walls, and a small tableau set up with the artists pallet and easel is popular for selfies. It’s worth having a peek at the elaborate family temple as you exit (you can’t enter), and the details carved into the shutters and walls of the museum.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 28th January, 2017.
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