A painting -- be it on oil or canvass -- is a mode of expression. It is also a spiritual healer; a kind of meditation, keeping your mind focused on one thing, instead of letting it go astray. Art is a subject where much patience, time and dedication is needed, and in any field, if you do it with love and passion, hard work and commitment , it turns out to be a masterpiece.
"That’s because the governments don’t even give a tax concession on paints, promote good quality painting and availability of painting material for the students to come up. "
Coming from an artistic background, and also being the son of veteran artist and sculptor Ariyawansha Weerakkody, popular artist Prasanna Weerakkody sure puts his heart and soul to it. With his father’s influence Prasanna continued with his art work, while being an enthusiastic and razor keen student at both Mahanama College and Royal College Colombo. Prasanna is also a Marine naturalist and conservationist, who have been into wild life painting as well. He has his own identity apart from the styles of his fellow artists such as Senaka Senanayake , Jayasiri Semage and Chandraguptha Thenuwara. He reconstructs the historic Sinhala life styles, and does the exhaustive research in to the ancient dress and life styles of people in Sri Lanka, and also specializing on paintings of Sri Lankan wild life and marine life. He shared the following with us:-
Q What inspired you to take to painting; and Sri Lankan history in particular?
My father was a famous sculptor, and also a leading Art Director. He was a Cinema Director too. He contributed for films like “Gamperaliya”. Most of the famous sculptures were done by him. Art was in the family and we grew up with that, with a lot of activities included. Since my father was a historian and very good story teller, we used to travel, to a lot of historical sites, which was a total educational tour. He described everything to us. As kids, that created vivid images and fantasies. My father had a huge library. When you look at Sri Lankan history, war plays an integral part. Constant wars have been on this ground. So we had an interest in Sinhala martial arts. We saw rough sketches of images from different places, the weapons which were unique, the costume references, so I started painting the stuff which would have been there at that time. So that was the start of this line of paintings. I had an exhibition in 2002. There were several wild life artists, but this was untouched. So I started painting more history-related stuff, and wild life went out of the scene.
Q I guess it takes some time to study these things about the past era. Is there a particular colour scheme? And how long does it take to complete one painting?
Yes , it takes some time. I work mainly in the achrolyc norm. I started off with water colours when I did wild life painting, but when painting history, I never used water colours. I thought the medium of achrolyic and oil was more suitable. Earlier I used oil but now I’m completely into artist achrolycs and I use warm tones in my paintings.
Q What do you think of art as a mode of expression ?
Art has many dimensions. Expressing of senses, to information and motivation, and activism too. It’s a very wide spectrum. It’s not just painting or just the colours. It tells a story of what we really were as Sinhalese. I see a lot more about ourselves, as a richer culture and what we see normally. My mission is to bring that history back. When you take the younger generation these days, our warriors and history are unusual to them. That’s why I am trying to fill the gap of visual grandeur of our history. I think I am having a pretty good impact by the response I am getting.
One of Prasanna’s masterpieces
Q What is your opinion about the contemporary modern art?
Well, I am not very much into modern art. Picasso went into modern art because he wanted a different medium to express himself, being an excellent artist. But now, most of the modern art trends here today, are with wrong depictions. Where is that soul-link? There should be a link between me and my painting. There has to be some communication. It should be either beautiful, or it should communicate something. All that is missing, at least it should relate to the person who painted it. If they don’t have the time for it, that means they don’t have the love for it. In modern art these days, they actually put down all other pieces of art. They have a right to do their own thing, but that doesn’t mean putting down other art. In my case, I am painting something that communicates something. What I am concerned about is that it is an aesthetically pleasing stuff, and people are moved by it. And that is art for me.
Q Some paintings by ‘big shot‘ artists are sold for millions. There are art festivals like ‘Kala Pola’ and George Keyt foundation. Do you think these would motivate the upcoming artists?
That is a good thing, but again, the realistic painters are put down. All these art market things, cliché places, they still prefer the modern art. Unfortunately, in all these ‘big shot’ stuff, give me an hour; I’ll do it. I just get a canvas, splash the paints out. I am a slow painter and don’t produce a huge amount of work, but I am happy with that.
Q Tell us a bit about your career as a marine scientist and a wildlife painter...
I got into the environment segment long before I got into history. I worked for the National Aquatics Agency for some time. Doing marine research, chasing dolphins, diving in coral reefs, and so on. I enjoyed it and we were getting to the sea, snorkelling as a hobby, focusing on coral reefs, all sorts of marine stuff. I am still involved in Marine work, but the wildlife painting is a bit out of the way. I have a lot of friends who are doing wildlife painting at the moment. So, I focus on history.
Q What do you think of environmental pollution ?
I would call it exploitation of the environment. In different ways. And things like oil, when you go to the sea, the concept of environment changes much more on the people more than the land. The ocean cannot carry unlimited amounts of pollution. We dump all junk into the sea. But once you go diving, you would see the huge collection of dumped garbage there. I started snorkelling and diving in Wellawatte when the beach was beautiful. But now I will not dive there at all!
Q Do you think the present government is taking certain measures to protect art ? What are your suggestions for its welfare?
I don’t know any of these governments did really focus on to promote or encourage painting. Art, normally known as the theatre, Cinema, books and maybe songs. But visual arts are totally ignored, and sculpture to some degree. On any day in front of the art gallery, you would see artists selling their stuff. Some of them are skilled. But the quality is not up to par, because of the material they use. So because the market is low, they are compelled to do a low quality job, using low quality paints. To get a palette done, you need to spend around Rs. 15,000-20,000. That’s because the governments don’t even give a tax concession on paints, promote good quality painting and availability of painting material for the students to come up. For art to flourish in this country, we need to make good quality material available and that are sold at affordable prices. If they are available, the budding artists would come up.
Q How do you find your stint; as a production designer for films ?
The cinema industry is a crazy unit. It is really difficult to get established there. You should be able to convince the directors to do what you want and do the right thing. I did some really good movie productions but stopped halfway with the huge amount of props made. A production designer is an important person who should really be coming into the industry. He should know what production designing really is.
Q Any idea of holding another exhibition ?
I have been wanting to have an exhibition for a long time, But I was a slow painter. But now I think that I have enough paintings. So I should go for one. I am trying to convince my clients to give me big paintings to exhibit. So I am looking forward to it.