17th March 2002

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Sensations of the divine and spiritual

Lingam, Mantra and Buddhist chant, an exhibition of paintings by Patric Morin is on view at the Barefoot Gallery, from Wednesday, March 20 to Sunday, April 7.

Patric Morin never received any formal education in art. He started to paint in his late twenties after he arrived in Sri Lanka.

Born in Quimper (Brittany, France) in 1962, Patric studied English at Rennes University and took a degree in "Tamil Language and Indian Civilisation" from "I'Institut des Langues Orientales" in Paris.

When he arrived in Sri Lanka to study Buddhism, Patric discovered with emotion the ancient paintings of the Sinhalese temples. The study of pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka also led him to explore many aspects of the Hindu religion. The world of the Hindu gods appeared fantastically attractive to Patric's mind but it was also a new and confusing world. "I was reading so much about Hindu gods but I was forgetting all I was reading so quickly too," he says. In order to understand each god, to remember his/her symbols and function, each in relation to the other gods, Patric started to draw and then later to paint them. 

He would also draw the previous Buddhas, Gautama Buddha, Maitriya Buddha, and certain events of Gautama Buddha's life in order to fix them in his memory. 

His Celtic origins probably make him receptive to religious art, replete with depth and spirituality. He is a great admirer of Rajasthani paintings and the 18th-19th century Punjabi painting schools such as Kangra, Chamba and Guler. His early works have been greatly influenced by Celtic traditional patterns, the North West Indian forms of art as well as Buddhist temple paintings. From the beginning, Patric developed a style of his own which, with time, has evolved from quite a classical and traditional way of painting to a more free and abstract though still figurative style through which he tries to express his sensations of the divine, of the spiritual. 

People see influences of Miro, Kandinsky and Klee in Patric's recent work. When asked, the painter smiles as if to say: "Maybe but not quite exactly!" He finally comments: "I hardly know the work of Klee or Kandisky but I must admit that I am a great admirer of Miro. Yet I feel that I would owe more to Indian tribal and tantric art and also to primitive art than I would to Miro."

All Patric's paintings represent the religious, both Hindu and Buddhist. In his Buddhist prayers and chants as well as in his Hindu mantras, Patric succeeds in expressing the melody, the movement and the vibration or the energy of the sounds with a rare talent through the use of both Sinhalese and Tamil script, an unusual sense of colours and a perfect mastery of lines. 

Most of Patric's work for the past four years has focused on the Lingam as a representation of Siva. A god that is very dear to the painter and through whom he can express the constant tension existing within: the wish to live the life and desires of a social man and of a householder as well as the wish of renouncing the mundane and the world.

Patric admits that although many other paintings continuously take forms in his mind and his heart, the Lingam has a tendency to impose itself above all.
Kala Korner by Dee See

How it all began with the 'vannams'
Researcher and academic Professor Sunil Ariyaratne does a thorough job whenever he is called upon to talk about the arts. Most recent was the keynote address at the launch of 'Lankika Sangeetaye Rohana Lakuna', released to mark Rohana Weerasinghe's illustrious career in music.

Titling his presentation 'The fountain of tunes', Sunil traced the origin of tunes in Sinhala music to the 'vannams' dating back to the 18th century. What is known as 'tanama' in the 'vannama', is the equivalent to 'tune' in English. Four letters in the Sinhala alphabet - ta, da, na & ma - were used to denote the tunes. Folk songs too had something similar to tunes but they were more poems. The word 'tanuwa' for 'tune' was created by scholar Kumaratunga Munidasa in the 1940s. 

More complex tunes came in 'nadagam' music and the Sinhala carols. With John de Silva coming on the scene in the early 20th century with the 'nurti', Sinhala music flourished. 

Sunil paid tribute to the pioneers Ananda Samarakoon, Sunil Shantha and Amaradeva for introducing truly Sinhala tunes to Sinhala music. They were followed by a host of others including Mohamed Ghouse, B. S. Perera, R. Muttusamy, Edwin Samaradiwakara, R. A. Chandrasena, Somadasa Elvitigala, Premasiri Khemadasa, Shelton Premaratne and Lionel Algama.

Sunil mentioned one time Director-General of Broadcasting, Ridgeway Tillekeratne, Film Corporation's General Manager D. B. Nihalsingha, pioneer audio cassette producers Vijaya Ramanayake and Ananda Ganegoda for their contribution in lending a hand to a new generation of creative composers. In the seventies, Tillekeratne opened the doors of the radio (the only one that existed at the time) to innovators with a host of new musical programmes like 'Prabuddha gi', ' Nava Nirmana', Swara Ranga', 'Jana Prasangani' and 'Swara Varna'. Nihalsingha stopped financial assistance to Sinhala films with music copied from Indian film music. When phonograph music was vanishing in the late 70s, Ramanayake with the 'Taranga' label and Ganegoda with 'Singlanka' pioneered the cassette industry providing 12 songs in a cassette.

He then went on to present an exhaustive analysis of Rohana Weerasinghe's creative efforts, calling him "an exceptional artiste."

A well-researched work
Two enthusiastic young men - Ravi Siriwardena and Samudra Wettasinghe - spent the past few months collecting articles and features for a felicitation volume on musician Rohana Weerasinghe. It was no easy task. They have turned out a 332 page well-printed document which, while paying tribute to the musician of the new generation, presents an exhaustive study on the contemporary Sri Lankan music scene. 

Titled 'Lankika Sangeetaye Rohana Lakuna', it is a well-researched document with a whole host of academic and authoritative persons writing on trends of modern music. Most of them have used Rohana's work to illustrate these trends.

Discussing Rohana's musical art and philosophy, music lover Dr. Carlo Fonseka refers to his "seemingly infinite capacity to create beautiful melodies." Rohana's creative genius enables him to supply on demand, music of surpassing quality in massive quantity, says Dr. Fonseka and as proof mentions that he has set to music over 2000 lyrics which have been sung by over a hundred singers. Rohana has created music for 125 teledramas, 30 films and 25 dramas. 

Describing Rohana as "a traditionalist who is modern in outlook and musically eclectic", he sees in Rohana's musical creations that he believes that an artiste has to be morally responsible and socially constructive. "In the last analysis, a musical composition is the expression of the mental and emotional state of the composer and Rohana is a humane, compassionate, sensitive human being," he observes. "By his genius in the creation of music he has commanded the admiration and respect of lovers of Sinhala music, the reigning art form in our country. The exquisite pattern of sounds generated in his mind and heart seem to me to represent in modern form, the best in our traditional culture."

This is just one sample of the depth of articles found in the book. The two young graduates should feel happy that they have succeeded in their effort to produce a well compiled work covering Rohana Weerasinghe's contribution as well as a look into contemporary music. 

Rural talent bursts out in dramatic song

The outstation run of Sondura Warnadasi, an opera by Premasiri Khemadasa and libretto by Lucien Bulathsinghala begins with a performance at the Ruhuna University, Matara on March 26.
By Lester James Peries
It was a sad moment in the history of modern music in Sri Lanka when Maestro Premasiri Khemadasa appeared on stage at the Lionel Wendt Theatre to confess to the audience that he just didn't have the money to provide them with a programme sheet. He however did say a few words about his new opera - Sondura Warnadasi which were hardly adequate, even though the opera was based on a popular Jataka story.

That an artiste, musical innovator and composer who had more than any other, striven to extend the boundaries of Sri Lankan music; explored the uncharted world of new sounds, new rhythms; attempted to fuse the best of our folk heritage, Indian classical ragas and the western musical tradition,should be denied patronage at a time when every cheap, vulgar initiative pop peddler has commercial banks and blue chip companies rushing to sponsor so called musical extravaganzas, is indeed a shocking indictment of our arts establishment.

It would not be fair to judge the production of Khemadasa's new opera with the achievements of his previous oratories, operas and symphonies. This is by its very nature and purpose meant to be a student production, a showcase of talent drawn from the students of the Khemadasa school of music.

Practically all of them are newcomers from rural areas selected after a two year rigorous training period. What is even more suprising is that practically the entire cast is appearing on stage for the first time. This is then their first appearance in a public performance. From that point of view, it is a remarkable production.

The libretto of the opera is based on the celebrated tale of a courtesan who falling in love with a bandit condemned to death, obtains by her overpowering charms his pardon only to face bitter private anguish when her love for him is unrequited.

An outline of the story gives little idea of the enormous demands made on the principal characters - particularly Sama - (a brilliant debut by Dilika Abeysekera) and Suviraka, Purapathi and Dhanapala Sithuthuma- all of them I understand, appearing for the first time in roles which in terms of not only of singing but in dramatic playing, dancing and miming demand professional expertise. 

The music, based as it is, according to the composer, on Indian classical ragas is both innovative and intensely lyrical - the distinctive sound of opera 'Khemadasa's musical style'. Only a few moments show a lapse in taste - a party dance and a song sequence which sounded like a refuge from a film - scenes which disturb the unity of the opera's splendid musical style.

However I leave it to the professional music critic to analyse the work with more critical expertise rather than my own comments which are at best that of an impassioned advocate and admirer.

A word on the libretto (by Lucien Bulathsinhala) would not be out of place - despite the verbal felicities, one did miss a clearer narrative line in what is a complex tale of dramatic human emotions. In conclusion I would advise every lover of serious music and musical theatre not to miss Sondura Warnadasi if only as a revelation of young people from the rural centres of Sri Lanka, discovered, nurtured and trained by the Khemadas Foundation.

For this Foundation has, despite many obstacles attempted to do what Harold Rosenthal, the celebrated music critic has said.

"For opera to survive as an art-form, the opera house must not become a museum but remain a living theatre and therefore it is essential that new ideas in music, in drama, in scenic design should be admitted, otherwise it will become a stuffy, fossilised, musty repository of out of date ideas."

Don't miss this show

"Rites of Passage", the Concert featuring Alien Accent (Suresh, DK and Ricky Bahar) will be held on March 22, 23 and 24 at the Bishop's College auditorium. Alien Accent is the reincarnation of the trio Suresh & Husni with DK, renowned for their songwriting prowess and groundbreaking live performances with Ricky replacing Husni. 

They first came into prominence, over a decade ago, delighting audiences with their renditions of Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hits. Their music has evolved over the years and is now influenced by artistes such as Sting, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Crosby Stills and Nash. 

Their ability to skilfully and tastefully incorporate local melodies and rhythms into their compositions has been critically acclaimed especially in Los Angeles, where they recently recorded their album Rites of Passage. So music lovers, don't miss this show. 

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