I had the pleasure of meeting Prasad Hettiarachi when he exhibited at The Barefoot Gallery in 2015. He was introduced to me by a good friend and a British Artist who has exhibited with us since 1995: Alex Stewart. Alex saw Prasad’s work at the Theerta Gallery in Borella and invited Prasad to come and see his work that was on show at Barefoot. Prasad came and was suitably impressed and inspired. Alex and Prasad have a lot in common. Both draw in miniature, Both use symbols to represent concepts and ideas, Alex’s are more in the mythological realm and Prasad’s symbols are grounded in his environment.
I caught up with Prasad at the Barefoot Gallery to speak to him about his 2nd exhibition titled EXCLUSION, his ideals, and life in general. We spoke in the studio upstairs surrounded by beautiful pieces of art—Prasad’s exhibition was on view downstairs at the Gallery below. It was a blustery day, the monsoon was in full swing as were the kohas, their screeches loud and familiar, so unlike Prasad whose voice is gentle and dignified. Prasad struck me as highly intelligent, soft-spoken and very kind.
What prompted you to become an artist? “I come from a background of art lovers. My father, H. A. Nandesena, worked as a painter, a wood polisher, and he liked to make things. He taught me how to paint at a young age—same age as my children are now. He is very clever person. He won the national lantern festival, came 1st in 2005 & 2006. I started seriously painting in Grade 6 – I’d see my father sketching drawings and other things—I thought and hoped to be a visual artist. I worked at painting. My other mentor was my teacher at school. He is a Buddhist Monk and his name is Pallathathara Thero- These were the two major influences in my early life. I passed my O-level- and A-level exams with a distinction in Art. I had the grades to get into The Visual and performing Arts but missed the university deadline.
How do you work? I work in Mirissa temple as a conservationist at the SAMUDRAGIRI VIHARAYA of temple. . I wake up in the early morning and catch the bus to Mirissa, which takes two hours. In the evenings when I comes home i spend time with my family helping the kids with their studies, talking to my wife; After which, I start painting, I work on paper and canvas working simultaneously on my paintings going back and forth on each one. I don’t have a studio i pains everywhere; my easel is whatever is handy and near. His children’s desk, the floor, a table. His favourite piece of art is one he worked on Last May Day, I worked on a set design with fellow artists and we painted a very large dragon holding a strong hand. (people power) The drawing is in the Fort. Today, my main job is working as a free-lance artist for the Central Cultural Fund.
Tell me how you came to call this exhibition Exclusion? Name was proposed by my friend and fellow artist, Laksiri. Exclusion is derived from Latin meaning to SHUT OUT. Every day I see my society and the lives of the people are changing very quickly without their choosing. Prasad would like the Government to give the people, freedom to think and act, freedom to live the way they want to, to be confident and to be able to trust the Government, to be secure. The gap is too big between rich and poor; and our taxes and funds are going into politicians’ pockets. Working people have problems, every day Government is not addressing their issues. Mega-projects are coming and moving their properties. However, he does not say that their lives are all about their problems. Prasad shows in his painting that the ordinary persons’ views can also be funny and colourful. They have problems, like everyone–but they are choosing answers, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but their lives are moving forwards.
What and who inspires you? What inspired this exhibition and why? He is stimulated by Party Politics, articles about art and politics in books, magazines and the internet, and his talks with friends, He enjoys discussing questions on politics and problems – He compares the daily news with party politics. This is what inspires him. HOWEVER, Prasad is an artist, as an artist he appreciates beauty, he paints about these problems with beauty— He thinks the LSSP party is right- he connects with their ideals., he has empathy for humanity at large. His favorite artist is Roy Lichtenstein he likes most of the modern artists such as Warhol and Jackson Pollack.
Is there an artwork here that is your favourite? And why? His favorite piece is: Knife sharpening machine is VI – it’s the one on the invite, and it’s the first painting in the knife sharpening series. He likes the color range. Emotions symbolically float up and disappear. This person has many hopes and emotions and they vanish every day –- the symbols represent the ordinary man and his hopes and dreams.
What is your favourite tool in your studio? A 000 triple brush. After painting a mural, the brush lost most of its hair and Prasad liked the result so he made his own brush called it a triple 000 brush a brush with very little hair—Prasad’s brush. His brush makes it easier to paint intricately and in detail. Look at his paintings closely, there is much to see.
What role do you as an artist have to play in society? I don’t want to be a star; my work is the star.
Prasad’s vision for the country: Equal. People should enjoy the same rights and privileges, usually accorded to the powerful and wealthy. This system does not support the ordinary man—system has to change—a revolution has to happen—Prasad is socialist with liberal leanings. The Government has no money. Our taxes should fund people’s projects. Thinking pattern needs to change. Working class people think that the Government has no idea of the common man’s problem. I don’t have an answer, all I know is that it’s a long journey. Every government has good policies for the people to start with, these need to be implemented with the help of intelligent men and women with good ideas and vision. Unfortunately, the ideals don’t follow through.
What’s integral to your work? The viewer integral to my work. Because they are the last judge of my work. They fill the white space with their character, their views, whilst being inspired by including Prasad’s ideas. He is hopeful. Hope is important. We all must have hope.
What next? Prasad would like to go an artist residency. I draw, make relief type sculpture and installations. All filled with the miniature art. He is working on an exhibition which he hopes to hold next year at Barefoot