IN THE LATE 1960s, the peripatetic and mercurial Australian artist Donald Friend found something of the happiness he had long been seeking. By then in his fifties, he had been preoccupied since adolescence by often unrealisable ideas about beauty and the exotic, haunted for more than a decade by ageing and the prospect of death, and many times disappointed in love. It happened almost accidentally, at a time when – once again – he had decided to escape Australia. He had resided previously in Africa, the Torres Strait, Europe and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and now, for nearly twelve years, would live like a lord in Bali while regularly undertaking various excursions elsewhere, before the island became the popular tourist destination it is today.
Friend became an international celebrity artist, relishing the role of charmed outsider in an exotic Asian culture. He collected Balinese artefacts, jewels and antiquities, some of which he shipped to Australia, and generally indulged himself as thoroughly as he knew how. At the same time, he became – somewhat haphazardly – a champion of Balinese culture as he understood it. Balinese iconography populated his paintings, and he wrote manuscripts and books about Balinese life and culture, including The Cosmic Turtle, drawing on his fascination with the island’s ritual life and history. He adopted Balinese modes of dress; the Balinese love of elaboration and decoration infiltrated his aesthetic judgements.
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