Arie Smit wanted to be born in Bali, but since he had no say in such matters, he had to make his way there over time. It would take nearly thirty years and a war, but once he arrived, Arie knew he was home- and he’s spent a lifetime exploring every inch, reveling in and masterfully representing the beauty that is Bali.
Born Adrianus Wilhelmus (Arie) Smit in Zaandam, Netherlands, on April 15, 1916, this gifted painter found an early attraction to art, attending the Academy of Arts in Rotterdam after primary school to study Graphic Design. He spent his free time closely examining the artworks locally exhibited, and found a special connection to the artists Signac, Gauguin, and Cézanne. Each of these artists painted landscapes and people through their own sort of color filter, allowing for imaginative palettes evoking mood. After such influences, Arie would go on to develop his own unique style of color representation, which he often referred to as ‘broken colors’.
In 1938 Arie was enrolled in the military. Sent to Batavia, he became a lithographer for the army’s Topographical Service, employed to engrave relief maps of the archipelago of the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia). He would later cite this as an inspirational time, drawing his attention to the beauty of the landscape, particularly the majestic Balinese mountains. Soon thereafter, Arie’s duties called him to East Java in the heat of World War II. In the year 1942, the gentle artist was captured and placed into a Japanese labor camp. For more than three years he was forced to work on building railways, bridges and roads in Singapore, Thailand and Burma. Fortunately, he was young and strong enough to endure these times and was released when the war ended in 1945. Rather than returning to his birthplace, though, Arie applied for citizenship in the new Republic of Indonesia, and in 1951 was granted that citizenship. Continuing his artistic endeavors, he took up teaching graphics and lithography at the University of Indonesia Bandung, also known as the Institut Teknologi Bandung, in West Java. When not working, he was concentrating on painting watercolor and oil paintings representing Java, and soon had a body of work ready to exhibit.
Arie’s first exhibition was in Palembang (capitol city of South Sumatra province) in 1953, and would be the first of a steady stream. In the next two years he would hold several solo exhibitions at Panti Budaya, Bandung; the Kolff Building, Jakarta; Plaju, Balikpapan and Palembang (both sponsored by Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij); and even held an exhibition in his own home of 25 small watercolors entitled “The Development of Kebayoran”.
During this period, Arie was attending an exhibition of Balinese art in Jakarta when he met Jim Pandy, who was an art dealer in Bali. The two struck up an immediate friendship, and Jim invited Arie to visit his house on the beach of Sanur. In 1956, Arie took up this offer and never looked back. The two men established a wonderful work relationship wherein Arie painted his heart out and Jim Pandy sold the artwork in his gallery. Being well connected, Jim was able to introduce Arie’s paintings to many influential patrons, including Sukarno himself, first president of Indonesia!
With full support, no distractions, and surrounded by boundless inspiration, Arie’s work developed quickly into its own. Being a quiet man, he didn’t focus on the people of Bali very much, doing only a few portraits. No, his passion dwelled with the calm landscapes ignited by, as he would describe it, ‘riotous light’. Using brilliant color pallets and expert compositions, he portrayed his beloved new homeland again and again in her every mood. His early work was aptly described by the artist as “poetic realism”, later to give way to more abstracted images created with exaggerated colors and highly simplified subjects, allowing the energy of the scene depicted to stand out far beyond the details. Arie communicated his response to Bali through bright strokes of color that created an image somehow exciting and soothing at once. Very often, amongst the leaning bright green palms and layered blue and purple hills of his landscapes, Arie would place a white or red temple as a focal point, creating that peace amidst so much visual commotion.
"I strive for poetic realism, a dream-like state of mind, a soft confrontation," -Arie Smit
In 1960, Arie came across a couple of young boys drawing in the sand. He was impressed by what he saw and offered to help the boys develop their skills. Bringing them back to his studio, Arie gave them paints and canvases, and minor technical instruction, careful not to offer advice on creative aspects. This gesture of kindness grew into a large student body soon, and eventually turned into a local art movement known as Bali’s “Young Artists”, with Arie the somewhat reluctant father. He ended up with about 40 students who, in turn, shared what they were taught with their friends until there were almost 400 young painters creating works in a similarly naïve and brilliantly colored style. As it turned out, one of the first two young boys to visit Arie’s studio, Ketut Soki, would become the most famous from this movement and make a lifelong career of painting, with works hanging in galleries around the world and much gratitude to his teacher.
In 1962-1963, Arie held a solo exhibition at the Italian Embassy of Jakarta and joint exhibitions with Renato Christiano, Han Snel (Gallery Pik Gan, Surabaya), and even with the Young Artists group with the sponsorship of the Italian ambassador, H.E. Baron Filipo Muzi Falconi.
Throughout the late sixties and seventies, Arie moved often from village to village, always pursuing the view over the next hill. His passion for Bali seeming boundless, he spent most of his time sketching new landscapes to bring back to his studio to paint. Constantly working, pieces would show up from time to time in various joint exhibitions, as he entered new territory in the 1980’s, turning more to painting the people of Bali for a short time in a style similar to Gaugain, followed by a series of vibrant tropical flowers. In 1981 he returned to teaching in his studio, this time for Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees upon request by the UNHCR. In 1988, he held a solo exhibition again, this time at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, followed by another at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta and a joint exhibition with Paul Nagano (US artist) at Museum Neka, back in Bali. The owner of this museum, Pande Suteja Neka, would become another important business partner for Arie. Throughout the 1980’s he had tried in his travels to represent his own art for direct selling, only to find the chore too distracting and time consuming to his creative process. Neka was happy to step in with a similar agreement as Arie had enjoyed with Jim Pandy for 16 years; Arie painted, Neka sold. Neka eventually developed a wing in his museum dedicated to Arie’s works, to be called the Arie Smit Pavillion (1994).
On August 14, 1992, the Balinese provincial government awarded Arie a Global Medal “Dharma Kusuma” Award for his guidance and contributions to the development of Balinese art, largely for the Young Artists. Living now in the village of Sanggingan, nearing 100 years, Arie continues painting and showing, though failing vision is beginning to limit his ability to do larger pieces.