To paint, as to produce any work of art, is to engage in an act of creation. In Druvinka’s work, creation itself becomes the subject. Her large-scale abstract paintings speak of inspiration, gestation, and genesis. On these canvases, she evokes the very sources of life, both human and divine.
Born in Sri Lanka and now based in northern India, Druvinka has over the past two decades developed a distinctive body of work devoted to the deepest mysteries of the human experience, and the transcendent realms beyond. Washes of watercolor and tempera sweep across bamboo paper; acrylic paint is built up in layers. Out of these watery depths, geometric and figurative forms seem to emerge and dissolve. There are recurring themes: the dark slit of a yoni, the imposing obelisk of the lingam. There are spherical bodies—be they ova or planets—concentric rings, and shadowy penumbra. In some works, liquid stains spread across dark, cosmic fields. In others, tangled forms writhe in a static explosion, as if the artist has distilled the chaos of birth in paint.
A retrospective look at Druvinka’s oeuvre reveals a clear evolution. Ten years ago, her canvases exhibited tight control: flat planes and square edged boxes constrained a swirling universe, like narrow windows onto outer space. In works from this period (DM 005.JPG), there’s a sense of foreboding, as if these alien forms could swing out of orbit unless they were kept hemmed in, locked beneath layers of acrylic paint. Druvinka’s perspective in these works is remote, as if she wants to maintain a safe distance from her subject.
Over the next two years, her style relaxes and softens. Her forms become looser and freer, and the perspective draws closer to reveal overlapping, translucent forms where once there were stark, opaque boundaries. The image of the yoni or vulva appears again and again, central and distinct (DSC00652). Her palette darkens, almost as if the viewer is being drawn into an underground cavern where shadowy forms overlap and merge. The paintings of this period are pregnant with longing.
And then in 2007, as if bound by some mysterious process of creative gestation, Druvinka’s canvasses begin to feature a proliferation of pale limbs, a nearly human figure. Her palette shifts from brown and green to crimson and orange (DSC00214). Gone is the quality of fear and constraint, replaced with an almost maternal confidence. That confidence remains in her more recent works, where her mastery of both form and medium is evident. In works from 2009, clear figures surface out of the layers of paint and paper: Ganesh floats in the foreground or peeks out from some dark opening, while serpents snake their way around the perimeter. Even the phallus has taken on a new quality of realism, as if the artist has allowed these symbols to rise from the level of the unconscious.
Take for example an untitled work from 2009 (DS_090303_9109.JPG). Here, the thick, dark body of a snake winds its way around the frame, while the elephant hovers ghost-like at the center. At the base of this mythic dreamscape appears a male member split by a leaf-shaped cavity: a merging of masculine and feminine. At the upper left, the phallus appears again, as ghostly as a palimpsest. No longer hidden or resisted as in earlier work, these forms appear organic, as if they have emerged without effort or calculation.
In her most recent works, deities and human figures feature prominently, though always against a backdrop of liquid shadows and cloudy dreamscapes. Her once relentlessly dark palette has lightened to mauves and pinks, creams and yellows; there’s a new emphasis on the divine feminine: Lakshmi hovers here and there, her neck garlanded with serpents.
Though many of Druvinka’s symbols stem from Hindu mythology, it would be reductive to read her paintings as emblematic of one religious tradition. To linger with these works is to bear witness to stories that are at once deeply personal and universal—stories that resonate across cultures and ethnicities, creeds and eras. In this way, Druvinka conjures a new world, drawing from many traditions to forge a vision distinct and unmistakable: a world that suggests nothing less than the whole of creation.
Arts writer, Santa Barbara, California, USA
Ganeshism 3 is a celebration of Lord Ganesh in art, through an exhibition of paintings at the Barefoot Gallery. It is the third show of its kind since 2008 by Sri Lankan artist Mahen Chanmugam.
Mahen has been painting for over thirty-five years and has devoted the last eighteen years to portraying Lord Ganesh. The paintings in this year’s show are part of a collection that attempts to present, not only the symbolism and iconography surrounding Lord Ganesh, but also the artists view of the powerful energies that Lord Ganesh represents, in the world around us, and within ourselves.
For Mahen Chanmugam painting Lord Ganesh, the deity with the elephant head, is a personal journey that was inspired by his spiritual connection to Lord Ganesh. In 1994, while working and living in Singapore, Mahen began a study of the iconography and symbolism of Lord Ganesh. He started exploring the classic forms, postures and the iconographic principles of perfect poise within the 32 forms Lord Ganesh appears in and translated these into contemporary representations.
The intensity of the search for new content in classic form has added an intellectual ambivalence to his work. Whereas the image topic is constant, the paintings now capture a range of emotions and themes. Today his art looks at Lord Ganesh’s iconography as a philosophical template that symbolizes liberation from ego, acceptance and the laws of cause and effect. Paintings like the Thousand Petaled Lotus of Light and Lord Ganesh with a Flute visualize the deity as a force that enables consciousness to evolve from its lowest to its highest. Deep, mesmerizing eyes gently look down from many of his paintings, reflecting his inspiration of love and awe from a single form that is so eloquently described in Progress of the soul by John Donne: Nature’s great masterpiece, the elephant, the only harmless great thing, the giant of the beasts.
Mahen has worked with all types of media, having mastered, then abandoned, oil painting and airbrush illustration for the transluscent brilliance of acrylic. He now works on materials as varied as canvas, wood, glass and mirror and sometimes, even on rice bags and other industrial packing material. He has had five solo exhibitions in Singapore and Sri Lanka and he paints and lives with his wife, two children and cats in his home studio, amongst the water monitors and bats in Nawala.
Ganeshism 3 will open at the Barefoot Gallery on the 29th of November and will run until the 16th of December.
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 highlight
her characteristic tall, thin people, and stark landscapes.
This time, the landscape focus is on Hambantota Bay. The paintings;
sombre in tone, colored 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. Nelun painted similar figures and exhibited her work
in 1994 at the Hermitage Gallery and, thereafter, at Gallery 706 and
the Barefoot Gallery.
In the year 2000, Nelun moved to concentrate on painting landscapes and
the changing environment. The paintings that were exhibited consisted of ethereal
images of a landscape that is vanishing due to our
lack of “care and concern.” A landmark exhibition at the Barefoot
Gallery in 2001, titled “wounding, requiem and mourning,” was the result of the
frustration of being witness to the “wounding, death, and
the mourning” of a landscape which is fast disappearing.
These paintings are depicted in red, black and white an allegorical
reference to our wanton scarring of our countryside.
Nelun was angry at what mankind was doing to the land, trees,
jungles. All of a sudden, she did not care much about people and their
blatant disregard of the environment, their natural habitat.
The Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami changed that. Following the distaster, her love of people
overshadowed her concern for the land and her anger dissipated.
Once again,figures feature prominently. Spurred by the extraordinary number of lives
lost that day – especially in her beloved Hambantota – Nelun saw her
“vanishing people” literally vanish — swept with the wave–
displaced, lost, despite the rebuilding efforts.
Where is the Amma wearing the Reddha and Hatte sweeping the veranda?
She paints these people so we will remember them. In the end, 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
nostalgically refer to a time when life was simple and the
answers to our questions seemed simple. This may be the reason we deeply
mourn deaths of loved ones in their 70’s and 80’s. They represent a different era,
values and morals were unwavering 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 question 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; to keep sane, and to
make sense of it all.
This gentle reminder by Nelun, when we view her
paintings may be the catalyst that we need.
A piece on Nelun Harsagama written in 2005 re posted here in the hope she will grace our gallery with an exhibition.