Walter Spies
The Edge of Heaven

February 9 2019

I’m spending some time on Bali and just read about Walter Spies, a Russian-born German painter, composer, musicologist, and curator. The Westerners image of Bali as a place of great physical beauty laced with a mysterious spirituality has its origins in the works of a small circle of bohemian expats in the 1930, of whom Spies was the most influential.

As a young man, Walter Spies was part of an aristocratic high society; the avant-garde culture of pre-war Moscow, then in Berlin and Dresden, Germany. But soon he no longer felt at home with the decadence of Europe, a world conformed to the template of a few tyrannical minds. He preferred to celebrate the magical realities in his own queer search for paradise. He found it on Bali.

He had a great influence on the local arts in all its forms and introduced many prominent guests to the Balinese culture. Among them Charlie Chaplin, Margaret Mead or Rabindranath Tagore. But he couldn’t escape Europe’s reach completely. First he was imprisoned for being gay under the Dutch colonialists and their Christian ideas and later again for being German, when Holland was invaded by the Nazis. After two years in a detention camp on Java he was sent to Ceylon, the ship was attacked by a Japanese fighter plane and Walter Spies died along with 400 German prisoners.

Another jungle dreamer who had a big influence on Spies:
Henri Rousseau on DOP