Donald Friend’s Night Fishing is an intoxicating blend of myth and landscape, the figurative and the fanciful. It is both as whimsical and self-aware as the prose that fills the pages of Friend’s perceptive publication Donald Friend in Bali, of which the artwork – in its vibrant detail – wraps around the inside covers.
On what was supposed to be only a visit to Bali, Friend decided to stay. He made a place for himself there, not only through his intimacy with the lifestyle and the locals but also through his place within the landscape. It was said that the gods reside in the mountains and the sea is home to the demons, Friend took advantage of this local belief and was able to secure prime waterfront property in Sanur where he built a grand house and striking garden.
He was known as Tuan Rakshasa or Lord Devil because his residence overlooked the place in the ocean where a ferocious demon lived. One could imagine him delighting in the notoriety of his local persona – his nature was to engulf those around him, be they family, friends or acquaintances, and to be referred to as a devil, let alone Lord Devil, would have caused him no end of mirth.
Friend was able to live an opulent lifestyle on Bali, the sales of his works excelled and enabled him to maintain and support a conspicuous lifestyle that included houseboys and gardeners. He became a collector of paintings, bronzes and artefacts, many of which ended up in Australian museums and galleries.
In addition to painting and drawing, he produced a number of manuscripts for books, some of which were published, Donald Friend in Bali and Bumbooziana being the better known and both displaying his wit, skills of observation and talent as a writer.
Friend wrote of the night fishermen,“… The tide is low. You can see the lamps and flares of a hundred fishermen wading ankle-deep in dark water, netting prawns and small fish. Their lights meander slowly over the shadowy shallows like a festival of stars, incandescence is fragmented in placid ripples. As always, music sounds somewhere near, and a yelp or two from some damned scavenging village dog, and the sound of someone laughing.”
Night Fishing was painted in Sanur when it was mainly a fishing village and superstitions were strong. Friend has drawn on a local legend as the subject of his painting and completed it in his unmistakable style. The demon in this image is most probably the fanged Djero Geide Metajaling who lived on the island of Nusa Penida which was visible from Donald Friend’s house – night was the time the demons were active as their strength was at its most heightened.