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
The centre piece of my work will be a painting made up of 48 separate images all interlocking with each other in many different permutations creating one piece titled “Theatre of the rock”. Alongside this are a number of single pieces continuing to expand the theme of “The Unwritten Book” .
The interior of the rock has become a network of individual lives and events. The way they are seen changes according to the images that surround it, reflecting how our lives can change on a daily basis through our powerlessness over others behaviour. Pieces of the work can be seen individually almost as souvenirs, a memory of the time when things were whole.
I am very excited at being able to exhibit with the these 3 Artists, all people who are creating there own paths and whose vision and practice I greatly admire . We all have strong links to Sri Lanka but actually met in the UK in Oxford and when I first saw their work felt that there would be an interesting and sometimes challenging cross fertilisation of ideas by showing together.
ALEX STEWART 2013
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