The abstractionist and representational painter

Celebrating the centenary birth anniversary of ’43 Group founder George Claessen

From abstract to impressionistic paintings and line drawings, a range of work of artist, sculptor, poet and founder member of the ’43 Group, George Claessen, will be exhibited at the Gallery Café in Colombo from July 21 to celebrate his birth centenary.

Born in Colombo in 1909, Claessen died in London in 1999 at the age of 89. The exhibition at the Gallery Café is part of a series of events, both in London and Sri Lanka, to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

Claessen left Sri Lanka first in 1947 to Australia. However, he came back and then left the country for England in 1949, never to return. Professor Senake Bandaranayake in the recently published book Sri Lankan Paintings in the 20th Century describes this as “similar to that of other major '43 Group painters, who abandoned their Colombo beginnings: Ivan Peries to London and Southend; Justin Daraniyagala to his family manor in rural Pasyala; Geoffrey Beling to the abandonment of art for religious fundamentalism; George Keyt wandering between one rural-suburban Kandyan retreat and another, with brief periods in Galle and Colombo.

But Claessen's separation was also more intense, introverted, further removed from his Sri Lankan homeland than that of any of his fellow artists, just as his art was itself unrelated to any particular cultural landscape, unlike that of Keyt, Daraniyagala, Beling or Peries.

“In that sense, Claessen was the most intellectual of the original ’43 Group, the most concerned in his art with ideas. As Daraniyagala described it in an early review, written just a few years after the first '43 Group show: detail does not interest him; he sees broadly with an innate profundity which characterises all his work; and above all is possessed of the ability to transmit effectively the reactions of an extremely sensitive mind to the objects and scenes of everyday life.”

Prof. Bandaranayake goes on to state: “This personal and reflective, rather than cultural or social, focus would at least in part explain the fact that he was the only painter of the original '43 Group to become an abstractionist.”

Claessen was both an abstractionist and representational painter at the same time and the entire range of the work of this remarkable artist is presented in the monograph on him by Dr. Shamil Wanigaratne published in London in 2000.

The exhibition will be held at The Gallery Café, 2 Alfred House Road, Colombo 3, from July 21 to August 19.

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