ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 30, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 44

To see how I see my art

“If somebody who looks at my paintings, smiles at something that made me smile, and cries at something that made me cry, then I have achieved something,” says renowned artist Jagath Ravindra

By Namali Premawardhana

Jagath Ravindra was born in 1963 in Madampe, Puttalam district. From his youngest days, his greatest interest was comic books. Grade 6 saw him drawing some himself, working into the dead of night. By the time the Advanced Levels came around, Jagath had decided that he was going to make a living writing comic books. There was no A/L Art teacher in school, but his principal, seeing his dedication and recognizing his talent, agreed to let him sit the exam.

Jagath Ravindra

He went on to receive a BFA from the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. Here he realized there was more in paintings than in comics, and decided to change his field. He is today, one of Sri Lanka’s leading artists. Jagath’s manner is unassuming, yet he knows what’s important to him. His art, to him, is passion and very personal. His purpose is to share his experiences with others, through his paintings. He wants his work to be accessible. “If somebody who looks at my paintings, smiles at something that made me smile, and cries at something that made me cry, then I have achieved something.”
“‘Art’ can’t be defined now” Jagath says. “A man could stand on a barrel under a tree in Pitakotte and shout out his opinion. That is expression, and art is essentially expression of self, but the line between random expression and art is very fine. It was not so in the past, when one could tell what was art and what was not.”

Jagath’s main concern about the current ‘art scene’ is that it is becoming a fashionable thing. Art is about culture, but art and culture in Sri Lanka are both so highly influenced by the West that it is difficult to tell what is natural to us, and what is not. “After all, culture does sell pretty well!”

The Jagath Ravindra exhibition ‘Ascending Being’ was opened on March 28 and will continue until April 17 at the Paradise Road Gallery. Exhibition times: 10 a.m. – 12 midnight.

As a lecturer at the Institute of Aesthetic Studies of the University of Kelaniya, Jagath comes into constant contact with the young and upcoming generation of artists. He believes that they are aware of the fact that culture ‘sells’, and according to him, too aware of it. “The students have a lot of talent. But they see things from a different angle than our generation. They are influenced by the pop-culture, and tend to follow fashion.” He does add though, that this is not necessarily a bad thing. He believes that a personal revelation of some sort comes to every artist, and that is when he or she begins to discover the ‘true self’ or the ‘inner being’. At this point influence does not matter, only inspiration does.

But inspiration itself is not enough. An inspired artist will drive himself to fulfil his responsibilities towards art. He will work hard and dedicate himself to perfection, but that is not enough to survive. Neither is it enough to make a change. Jagath believes that artists have a social responsibility, although not as ‘artists’ but ‘citizens’.

“Artists need to give something to society, but once society receives it and knows, then the artist needs to find something new to say” and this he finds as a citizen. According to him, the current situation in the country does not leave much room for artists to make the difference they should be making in society. An artist needs facilities, finances, opportunity and encouragement. Yet these things are hard to come by. This is where Udayshanth Fernando, director of the Paradise Road Gallery fits into Jagath’s picture.

Udayshanth (or ‘Shanth’) boldly proclaims that Jagath Ravindra is “Sri Lanka’s finest contemporary artist. His style is distinct, and he has stayed with it.

Jagath evolves in harmony with what is happening around him, not because of what’s happening around him, and although he is a bit erratic, we are proud to work with such a supreme artist.”

According to Shanth, Jagath’s work has been “done, hung and appreciated” well at the Paradise Road Gallery which sees itself as a platform for Sri Lankan talent to be exposed. Jagath’s latest exhibits titled ‘Ascending Being’ include 18 paintings composed within a period of five months.

According to him, these paintings reflect the personal disappointment he has suffered. ‘The Man’ in his paintings, who was once powerful “is now a silhouette, more spiritual than physical”.

This is reflected in the paintings which have been inspired by the brilliance of the sun, the mystery of the moon and the calm of the sky, all of which are connected to the ‘Hope’ which his previous exhibition was built around.

“I think the paintings this time are more romantic. It’s just me, and the alienation. I only want to move a person, to melt a heart.”

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