Stepping Out – Notes on Technique
As I prepared for this exhibition, Barefoot Gallery Director Nazreen and I engaged in a stimulating dialogue across the time zones – thank goodness for the wonders of skype! One aspect of our talk was my painting technique and these notes are a distillation of Nazreen interviewing me on this topic.
The subjects in the Stepping Out series are all painted from life without using photographs or found images. These are real shoes and objects that are borrowed, bought or belong to me. Sometimes when I have a particular idea in mind it means searching the markets of Hong Kong to find the perfect teapot, toy or crystal ball! My studio is increasingly filled with an eclectic collection of objects which may one day find their way into a painting.
Arranging the composition is critical. The still lives can take hours of moving the individual objects in relation to each other, changing the viewpoint and trying different lighting options so the reflections and shadows fall as integral parts of the overall composition. Although the single shoes in the series stand alone without relation to another object in the picture plane, they were still carefully angled and lit until the composition worked.
I use acrylic paints for their versatility and because they mix with water and I prefer not to use other solvents. They can be thinned to watercolour consistency or used like oils but they have a very quick drying time. This enables me to work in layers in rapid succession. As I like to focus on one painting at a time and work solely on that until it feels finished, this saves me from having to set it aside to dry for days between layers of painting.
Where a high level of realism is required, I use a traditional oil painting technique. This starts with a monochrome, tonal underpainting. For this stage the image is painted fairly accurately in just one colour with dark, mid and light tones. I usually use a burnt sienna for this with added white for the highlights. It looks something like an old sepia photograph at this point. Then colours are added in thin layers or glazes over the top. This technique allows for the build up of subtle gradations of colour and can give the effect of letting light reflect outward from the object, creating a luminosity that is hard to achieve otherwise.
In other areas, in the single shoe series for example, I want to contrast the high illusion of the depicted object with the very flat 2D picture plane itself. These flat backgrounds look simple but to achieve the matt finish and the intensity of colour, there are between four to eight layers of paint, often with different colours in the underlayers which subtly effect the final tone.
A final word should go to the palette. In my initial training in sculpture, colour was never a major consideration, I was mainly interested in form. When I moved to painting, colour became important but was still limited to a fairly neutral palette. The catalyst that changed my colour sensibility was the experience of coming to Sri Lanka. In the decade I have been visiting Sri Lanka, the paintings have taken on a vibrancy of colour that has become a key component in my work.
Kay Beadman, March 2012
Nelun Harasgama has been painting ever since she can remember. As a girl she
took classes at the renowned Melbourne Art School, founded by Cora Abrahams.
There Nelun developed her skills, guided by her wonderful teachers, Mrs. Latifa Ismail and Noeliene Fernando.
Ms.Ismail enjoyed taking her students out of the classroom to explore Colombo.
The Vihra Maha Devi Park, The Beaches, Galle face Green… It was
outdoors that Ms. Ismail had her students sit down, to paint. Nelun loved it.
After finishing school at Ladies College in 1977, Nelun went to the
University of Trent to learn the fundamentals of design. In 1981 she left with a degree
in Graphic Visual Communication.
Six months after returning to Sri-Lanka, Nelun joined JWT, and for next
ten years she worked in advertising, including short stints at Masters,
Ribbs, Shri Communications and Grants.
In 1991,she decided to leave the advertising industry and
and joined Barefoot as a designer of fabric and clothes. Today she works on her
own terms, freelancing for a number of clients.She paints in
between her role as mother, wife, designer of books and freelancing as
creative director for various ad campaigns, all conceived and
designed by her.
Nelun’s first exhibition was as a contributor to a group show in 1984 at the
Lionel Wendt . The group consisted of five artists, students
of Lafita Ismail’s adult classes. Michael Anthonis, Sharmaine Mendis were
partcipants (Nelun cannot remember the other two).
Nelun Harasgama’s forthcoming exhibition at the Barefoot Gallery highlights
her characteristic tall, thin like people, without distinctive features
and her stark landscapes. This time, the landscapes focus is on
Hambantota Bay, the paintings sombre in tone with a blue-black hue
Hambantota is where, when not in Colombo, she spends time with her husband,
Luxshman and delightful one of a kind daughter Aringa.
Those of you who know her work will recognise the current series of
paintings, as Nelun depicted similar figures in exhibitions starting
in 1994 at the Hermitage Gallery and thereafter at Gallery 706 and
the Barefoot Gallery.
Beginning in the year 2000, Nelun moved to concentrate on painting landscapes and
the changing environment. Her paintings in those exhibitions consisted of ethereal
images of a landscape that is evolving and vanishing due to our
lack of care and concern. An exceptional exhibition at the Barefoot
Gallery in 2001, titled “wounding, requiem and mourning,” resulted from the
frustration of being witness to the wounding, death, and then, naturally,
the mourning of a landscape which was once there, and now, disappearing.
These paintings depicted in red, black and white an allegorical
reference to our wanton scarring of our countryside. The religious
connotations cannot be ignored.
Nelun was angry at what mankind was doing to our land, trees,
jungles. All of a sudden, she did not care much about people and their
blatant disregard of their environment, their home.
But the Dec. 26 tsunami changed that. Following the distaster, her love of people overshadowed
her concern about the land, and her anger dissipated. Consequently, her figures, once again,
feature prominently. Spurred by the extraordinary number of lives
lost that day – on Dec. 26, 2004 and especially, in her beloved Hambantota
- Nelun saw her “vanishing people” literally vanish, swept with the wave,
displaced, despite the rebuilding efforts.
Where is the amah wearing the Reddha and Hatte sweeping the veranda
timelessly? She paints these people so we will remember them. Ultimately she
paints these images again and again, because she does not want to forget
them, And she does not want us to forget them.
Why does she not paint us? “We are horrid,” she says. “We do not stay in one
place long enough to be painted.”
To the viewer, Nelun’s work is a reminder of how it was once, – these people will
never be part of our lives today. This realization saddens Nelun. It saddens me.
Our generation, especially those of us who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s,
constantly refer to a time where life was simple and we knew the
answers. It is the reason we deeply mourn deaths of loved ones in their 70’s
and 80’s. Gone are they, never to return. They represent a different era,
where values and morals held strong, and a gentle and civilised way of life
was the name of the game. Intelligence in whatever form was deep and true.
But who are we to mourn, this generation in transition? We need to
take what we know and what we‘ve learned and move bravely toward the
future. Our children depend on it. We have to do it to keep us sane, and to
make sense of it all. And the gentle reminder, by Nelun, when we look at her
paintings may be all the sense we need.
A piece on Nelun Harsagama written in 2005 re posted here in the hope she will grace our gallery with an exhibition.
• To create general awareness of this subtle form of discrimination that affects more than half the Sri Lankan population
• To be involved in an activity promoting non-violence in post-war Sri Lanka, forming a part of the 16 day activism beginning from 25th November (Violence against Women’s Day) and Human Rights Day.
• To sensitise policy makers, Parliamentarians, Media, School Children and the general public on the scourge of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and the need to provide immediate solutions to this.
Paintings for this exhibition will be done by two artists who happen to be a mother and a daughter:
1. Marini de Livera – a Human Rights Trainer, Feminist Lawyer/ Human Rights Activist, Artist and Book Illustrator who has had three Art Exhibitions before. She has illustrated a number of books including the ‘The Living World’ –a book published under the British Council GELT Project. Her paintings are also displayed at the Library of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Attorney-General’s Department and in the Auditorium of Women’s Education and Research Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
She won an award at a Mascot Competition which was organised by the Ministry of Health in the Republic of Seychelles in 1993.
She has conducted Art Programmes for Ex-combatants who were rehabilitated in Ambepussa in 2009.
2.Sindhu de Livera- is a 19 year old school leaver awaiting A/Level Results. She intends to study law and pursue a career in International Human Rights. She is a Public Speaker, Debater and Artist. At present she works for Women Defining Peace-A CIDA Project and also designs and markets Batik clothes done by tsunami-affected women.
Sindhu conducts painting workshops for children in the Colombo Municipality Orphanage.
The exhibition will be held in November 2011 to coincide with the 16 days of Activism to prevent Gender Based Violence.
Twenty paintings depicting loopholes in the law, problems relating to the implementation of legislation and the ineffectiveness of Mechanisms and institutions will be highlighted in the paintings.
On thousand desk calendars are to be printed with pictures of the paintings together with a description of what it depicts written by the artists and are to be distributed among Legislators, Judges, Academics and Community Leaders.
The Organisers of this exhibition hope to have discussions with youth, activists, community leaders, academics and the legal profession on how to alleviate the problems relating to combating gender based violence which are highlighted in the paintings.
Timing and venue-
The Exhibition will be held for two days– 25th and 26th of November 2011.
I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
(From the poet William Wordsworth 1888).
Chaminda seems to dream his images like a poet. Paintings from most recent years have a fluttering quality seemingly poetic and visionary. Images from the mind, … a woman made like a a big central vase, a black woman with plants and wings decorating the surface, black head white lips, white painting with blue placenta-ish plants, black figure with white rings on legs and yellow legs, Some men have wings some black plants have white flowers, it seems to celebrate difference. Two black and white men facing each other surrounded by leaves nose to nose, many hands wings and tools. The ground is made expressively with strong colour and the figures are floated. Outlines – simple and flowing – I am reminded of Greek vases and Roman mural painting in the flatness and archetypal nature of the imagery. Their content seems formal as well as symbolic; the paintings are carefully constructed.
Why are the figures in Chaminda’s paintings black and white? Are they discussing divide, are they about reconciliation the bringing together of opposites? The juxtapositions are always beautiful and suggest light and shadow, privacy and the hidden world of the imagination. They also sometimes contain sharp edged implements and jagged plants, suggesting weapons, spears and barbed fences. It would be easy to over-interpret these paintings, reading then as symbolic in a literal manner. Their interpretation is ambigous enough to be left to the viewer.
The surfaces of the latest paintings are covered in train tickets that are used as the ground for the painting. This interuption of the surface (which happens in some of the other work) is a reminder of material reality, the long history of collage is evoked, a harsh reminder that the dream world is a world you wake up from….. or is it about the journey the dreaming journey where you can project your imagination on anything – the power of art and the imagination to transform anything and everything. This is a wake up call to materiality and to today’s world.
Double interpretation, Black and white, beautiful and harsh, expressive ground and delicate formal figure placements, material and illusion – it is a world of opposites. This swinging ambiguity seems to me to be at the root of Chaminda’s beautiful paintings, he permits the material to bring his art like all good art firmly into the real world. I believe that even in the late 90’s when I first knew his work, materiality of the surface, the stuff of paint and touch were at the heart of Chaminda’s paintings. He includes doubt. His brilliant use of material and imagery is not allowed to overwhelm – everything is in balance. The references are universal to painting and the discourse is transcultural.
Andrew Stahl August 11th 2011
Andrew Stahl : Director of Studies Undergraduate Programmes, Head of Undergraduate Painting. Slade School of Fine Art, London ,UK
Memories, Maps and Dreams: Josephine Balakrishnan, Colombo Sri Lanka
Memories, Maps & Dreams
An exhibition of paintings and prints by Josephine Balakrishnan
Opening August 13, 7:30 PM
Show runs August 14 – 31, 2011
Galle Road Colombo 3,
In eastern culture a dream can be a map; the dreamer a vehicle of the Divine. In western culture dreams refer to the psyche’s expression of the ego. In “Memories, Maps and Dreams,” Josephine Balakrishnan deciphers the mystery of dreams.
We see the western symbols that unlock the psyche and the messages. Balakrishnan ponders, “Do we live to dream, or dream to live?” The prints and paintings in this body of work address the question, “Why do we need maps when we always have a thread of memories and a myriad of dreams to lead us through each passage?”
With colors and birds flying, this show provides not only maps of moons, images of lovers walking, and references to the past and future, but seeks to reveal our own internal maps.
Contact: Nazreen Sansoni:
Tel: +94 11 2580114
Tel: +011 510-524-6754