by Catriona Mitchell

Colin McDonald has had an illustrious career as a lawyer and QC in Australia since 1975, and is perhaps best known in Indonesia for working to save members of the Bali Nine from the death penalty, for which he won an Australian civil justice award. A resident of Ubud, Colin has held a deep affection for Bali for almost as long as he’s been a lawyer: he first explored the island in an old Holden in 1983, and fell in love above all with Balinese art and aesthetics.

For decades now, Colin has been an avid collector of art – largely Balinese and Indonesian – and earlier this month he opened up his home in Lodtunduh to a small number of guests to show and talk about his collected works.


We met Colin over a drink, in front of one of the bird paintings that characterize both the collection and the villa, which is designed according to Balinese Hindu principles with seamless integration between the architecture and the natural world. “You let the garden come in,” said Colin. “That’s part of the tropical experience – it’s calming and soothing.”

ColinM1Colin has been a bird-watcher since his teens, and this passion has collided with his drive for collecting art – with the result that he owns several large-scale works by I Ketut Ridi, “the senior-most bird artist in the Lodtunduh area, and one of Indonesia’s best.”

Lodtunduh is well known for its bird life, and Ketut Ridi knows the local birds and their habits intimately: he can repeat their calls and replicate their nests on canvas, he knows which materials they use for nesting and what they subsist on… his work celebrating this insight into the natural world with precision and beauty. Much sought-after, Ridi’s paintings hang in the presidential palaces of Jakarta and Bogor; they were much admired by and collected by the late President Soeharto; and are prominently placed in Colin’s house too.

Ketut R 2

by I Ketut Ridi

Ketut R 3

by I Ketut Ridi

The work below was commissioned to encourage the artist to maintain his interest in bird paintings during an emotionally draining time in his life.

Ketut R 1

by I Ketut Ridi

Colin has had a long association with Neka Museum, “the best curated museum in Bali.” He openly praises Suteja Neka’s openness to, and long association with, European artists such as Hans Snel, Arie Smit and others – “he gave them his time and witnessed their talent”. Colin has been dining with Neka at Murni’s Warung for 30 years, and has made purchases from Neka, including works by Subroto (see below), whose art now hangs in collections around Australia including in the Northern Territory Museums and Art Gallery and the Indonesian embassy in Canberra.


by Sobroto

Colin has dedicated a whole room to the works of Made Budhiana: he’s been collecting Budhiana’s boldly coloured, frenzied abstract paintings since 1984. “There’s an energy in his work that inspires,” says Colin. “You can’t compare it – he’s a truly original artist.” The bond between the two has become a lifelong friendship, and at one point Colin invited Made to Australia to paint the landscapes of the Northern Territory: this became an exhibition opened by Doctor Joseph Halim, the Indonesian Consul in Darwin.

Made Budhiana 2

by Made Budhiana

Drawing an interesting parallel between Balinese and indigenous Australian artists, Colin said: “It’s about a world of spirits. Although their iconography is separately informed, they see the world not as quantum materialist, but in terms of spirit souls that we need to court and pay respect to.”

Colin and his “rival collector” (Haru, an architect from Surabaya) recently got together to produce a book to document Budhiana’s work, called Crossing the Horizon: Made Budhiana, by I Wayan Suardika.

Budhiana 1

by Made Budhiana

Since the completion of his Lodtunduh home in 2008, Colin has been inviting artists to live and work in his home, “to energise the place.” He tries to have an artist on site at all times. And perhaps the most striking – certainly the most touching – aspect of Colin’s talk was his close connection with, and obvious affection for, these artists for whom he opens his doors and whose work he collects. One painter “is a regular at this home,” another “was here for dinner the other night”, a third “comes to swim here at weekends and brings his children.”

Bali painting 1

by Made Budhiana

“Impressive,” muttered one of the visitors about the collection, as we wound our way from the artist’s studio back to Colin’s villa along a pathway of mossy stones. “It would take a whole week to take it in.” Another piped up, “The art world must love you.”

“Well I love it,” Colin replied. “It’s a lot better than running bloody murder trials!”

Colin McDonald has 450-500 works in his collection, housed between Bali and Australia. He is in the process of having his collection photographed and documented, with a view to having 30 years of collecting and engagement brought together for other collectors to enjoy.

Bali painting 2

by Made Sudibia

Our thanks go to Colin McDonald for opening up his home and so generously sharing his collection and insights.

‘A Glimpse into the Private Collection of Colin McDonald’ was organized by Art Club Bali. Art Club Bali is for art appreciators, and those who wish to become involved with art – to discover, inspire, share and discuss art, and especially Balinese art.

For further information about the program see