The blinding joy of Pierre Guillaume’s art Unity in Diversity; Recording a joy of life in Java and Bali – Part I

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In “Ceremony Goa Lawah Bali” Guillaume plays with dappled light amongst purple shadows to evoke that special atmosphere of sitting in the shade under trees on the beach. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

IO – Pierre Guillaume’s paintings are filled with an almost blinding joy of life, nature and people. The vitality, warmth and passionate optimism of his paintings come at first as a shock and then a slowly increasing delight filling the viewer with a warmth and energy that comes from trusting life. It is very clear from his paintings that Guillaume trusts both people and life and indeed he describes himself as an optimistic painter who likes to show joy and happiness. And as for the many critics that fill the world who despise any art that is naïve enough to be happy, his attitude is simply that he doesn’t care. “Art is about the free­dom of doing what you want to do,” explains Pierre Guillame. “I have mas­tered all the styles and this is what I truly want to be doing. Once, if nine­ty-nine people liked my work and one did not, I only thought about that one critic but as you grow older you have more experiences in life – and that has changed me. I have seen people die – family and friends and when you have seen that you start to understand what is really important in life. Life is a gift and time goes by so quickly…”

Duta Gallery’s famous fountain sits in a lush Balinese style garden. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Guillaume comes from a long tra­dition of Western painters who have succumbed to the “magic of the East” and who after the War have been disparagingly referred to as “Mooi Indies” or “Beautiful Indies” artists and impressionism is a style especial­ly conducive to the beauty of eternal summer. At the moment Guillaume has a collection of sixty-five pieces of art on display at the Duta Gallery. Didier Hamel who is the curator of the charming Mediterranean style art gallery in the middle of Kemang responded in even stronger terms to the Mooi Indies criticism., “It was Sud­jojono who created the moniker but you must remember that he was not only an artist but in a sense also a politician – he was after all in the mid­dle of a revolution – but he was wrong because he used this sobriquet to dif­ferentiate between Dutch and Indone­sian artists and in the history of art at the time of Sudjojono the term was used as an insult. It was used to say, “You are Dutch and I am Indonesian. It was a label used by the nationalists and those who were anti-Dutch.

Didier Hamel who is the curator of Duta Gallery sits in his office amongst the paintings. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

But of course, Dutch artists com­ing to the Indies were attracted by the beauty of Indonesia and mostly paint­ed landscapes. Sudjojono himself painted landscapes – for Indonesia is indeed beautiful. That is something that cannot be denied”

Pierre Guillaume was born in the Netherlands, sixty-four years ago under the name Peter Willemse. The name Pierre Guillaume was adopted by him much later for his “plein air” paintings. He had his first success with his art at the tender age of four when he drew a windmill so well that his teacher took him to every class in the school to show them his wonder­ful drawing of a windmill. “She did me an enormous favour,” says Pierre, “for that teacher triggered both my confidence and my creativity. My mother was also extremely support­ive of my creativity. Both she and my father were very creative people. My father was a musician and my moth­er was a housewife but she was al­ways trying things out, she painted and was very clever with her hands. My mother could make something beautiful or funny from nothing. Once together with us children, she made a sort of kaleidoscope from a simple box with a hole in it. It was wonderful.”

The exuberant cheerfulness of “Boys Bathing under Sunshine” captures the freedom of
childhood that has remained with Guillaume all his life. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Guillaime remembers his father as being rarely at home for in the daytime Pierre’s father worked in a factory. “We did not have much mon­ey so he worked very hard. He would come home after work: eat, shower and then off to work again this time as a saxophone player. It was only at the age of ninety that he could finally no longer play the saxophone. He no longer had the breath,” said Pierre gently. Then turning his attention aside, he continued, “I, myself hated school and often played truant. Then I would escape into nature. There was a wild piece located in a triangle cre­ated by a junction of several railway lines where I would immerse myself for hours with the birds, butterflies, small animals and plants. Now it is difficult to find such places in Holland. I was a very romantic kid,” remarked Pierre with an apologetic grin.

Cempaka”s liquid eyes hold the viewers gaze in “Portrait of Cempaka”. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Mooi Indies art was not Impres­sionist. Most of the Dutch artists of the late nineteenth century were of the Hage School which was heavily influenced by the realist painters of the French Barbizon school. Later they were mostly influenced by the Expressionists. This is why Hamel finds Guillaume’s Impressionist style so refreshing. It is an interest­ing vision of Indonesia for as far as he knows there were only three Im­pressionists painters in Indonesia namely Ernest Dezentje, his son Dju­priany and Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres. Today of course nearly no Indonesian painters are Impres­sionists. It is not fashionable.

The intricacy of the lace on Purwati’s kebaya is reflected in the form of
the plants behind her. The shadows of the plants are maroon on a yellow
background whereas her lace is yellow on maroon. Title: “Purwati Relaxing in the Garden, Java”. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Impressionism is not an easy style for it needs a lot of con­centration and I like this style,” admits Hamel. “Impressionism and the Romantic are typically French. It is a question of feel­ing. The Germans had it for literature and music but not in art. The Impressionists had that romanticism especially with the play of light. They express the romance of light in nature. Pierre is involved with the play of light in the landscape. The light between 3 and 5 pm espe­cially in Java is a very soft light with a great luminosity. It can almost be described as an Impressionists dream light.

Pierre Guillaume stands in front of “Sawah Lanscape,Bali”. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

There is a certain intimacy in Pierre’s Indonesian paintings; an inti­macy between people and nature and the artist. Then there is that soft at­mosphere in the air created by Indo­nesia’s equatorial light; speckled light under trees creating purple shadows. His light sparkling on water tenderly recreates his subjects delight as little boys splash and frolic amongst the waves. Pierre likes to paint the emo­tional liquidity of water: the blues and greens with dashes of orange light like so many gold fish; so much so, that at first many of his paint­ings were beach scenes. At the time he explained that the beaches are right on the border where land stops and where the ocean begins. People are also different on the beach. The beach gives you the safe feeling that we remember from our youth…. and in Pierre the child spirit is very strong.

A temple complex in that clear light of Bali which would hold any Impressionist spellbound. Title: “Sunlight on the Old Temple”. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Hamel holds that the Romantics were looking for the beauty in things: in people, in the landscape. The Impressionists tried to express the romance of the light of the cosmos. Every artist has a message. Pierre’s message is peace and volupte or sen­sual pleasure. “If everyone looked at their surroundings like that develop­ing; their romantic side,” says Hamel, “there would be no wars. There are many styles but beauty is a treasure and an artist should give that to peo­ple. Beauty is important for life and people who buy paintings are trying to put themselves in harmony with life. The artists job is to provide them with another window or dimension on the world… a spiritual dimension…”

Pierre Guillaume appears to have done just that.

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)