Is he around, I asked. "Yes, he is just outside,
someone answered. I went out and looked for him. I wasn't quite
sure. I checked again. "There he is - in shorts," she
pointed out. I went up to him and asked, "Wonder whether you
remember me. He had a good look at me and said, "Of course"
and gave me a warm hug. I was meeting master sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe
after many years. Minus his beard, he looked young and fit.Dressed
casually in a pair of shorts and a short- sleeved bush shirt, he
is yet the simple, friendly man I knew back in the late sixties.
After seven years, Tissa is exhibiting his work - 'New Bronzes'
- at the Lionel Wendt gallery (today is the last day). "Last
year I had a one-man exhibition in Bangkok and here I am, in Colombo,"
he said. Domiciled in England since the early seventies, he hasn't
changed much. He is the same old Sinhalaya from Yogiyana!
Sarath Chandrajeewa approaches us. He breaks the news that "Professor
Kerbel died yesterday." He is the Russian master sculptor who
did Prime Minister Bandaranaike's huge bronze statue at Galle Face.
Tissa's immediate reaction was "I opened my exhibition yesterday
and the man who did Prime Minister Bandaranaike's statue dies,"
and recollects that no sooner had he opened his first one-man exhibition
at the Wendt in 1959, news reached them that Mr. Bandaranaike was
shot. "We immediately closed the exhibition and had it a month
later," he reminisces. Incidentally, Chandrajeewa who has recently
started a class at Sapumal Foundation, was very close to Professor
Kerbel. He did his Master's under him. "He came for my exhibition,
saw my work and invited me to his university in Moscow to do my
Master's. It was such a privilege to have been chosen by such a
renowned man to do post-graduate work merely by seeing my work,"
Chandrajeewa gratefully acknowledged.
As for Tissa's work, prominent were those of the Buddha. 'Dushkarakriya'
(Self-mortification), Enlightenment, and 'Mara Yuddha' stood out.
'Two monks' and several sketches of Buddhist monks made me ask him
why such a dominance of the Buddha and the Sangha. "I have
always been fascinated by the robe and the shaven head," Tissa
said. There were many more. 'Ganesh - Lord of the Mouse' manipulating
a computer was fascinating. 'Mithuna' (2), 'Triple Trident', 'Peacock
and the Rider', Crab & Crane' (2), 'Bull' were all lovely creations.
But all eyes were on 'Viswakarma' - Tissa's interpretation of the
Deity of Crafts - the handsome piece of sculpture with a 'pol thel
pahana' as part of it at the bottom. As Professor Albert Dharmasiri
describes this "powerful dominating sculpture", it has
the general form of a human figure but is composed of a world of
ambiguous invented forms to buttress the attributes of the patron
deity of arts and crafts.
the 'New Bronzes', Professor Dharmasiri says that although styles
adopted by contemporary sculptors range from complete realism to
completely non-figurative sculpture, Tissa's is neither an imitation
of nature nor an autonomous creative activity where all resemblance
to natural objects is eliminated. In terms of style Tissa's sculpture
is an amalgamation of the two.
and animal forms constitute the central point of departure of Tissa
Ranasinghe's sculptural language. His work is a simplification,
stylization of transformation of the natural object it represents.
The aim of his transformation of natural objects is not to fit them
into a pure decorative scheme but to create a structure of expressive
forms," he adds. Calling Tissa "a consummate craftsman",
Neville Weeraratne in the foreword to the catalogue, says he is
not only a sensitive artist but also a scholar well versed in the
mythology of our country. "He alludes to these rich strands
of anecdote to embellish the images he conjures for our contemplation.
By doing this
he universalises the experience. He combines the tactile appeal
of an object seen in the round with the imaginative, the spiritual,
that which reaches out beyond the confines of our three-dimensional
world, he writes.
Tissa has an
impressive record of work over the past half a century. The best
known bronze statues one notices at strategic points in the city
of Colombo are all his. At least four Prime Ministers - D. S. Senanayake,
Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawela and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
- and first Ceylonese Governor-General, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke
were done by him. So was Colonel Olcott's.
to exhibit in London and other places. Being so active at 78, he
is bound to carry on for many more years.