Inspired by the pastoral scenes of his childhood, the buzz of city life and the magic of the hills, this artist, whose latest exhibition captures his current mood, that time is running out and he has so much more to see and paint, talks to Duvindi Illankoon For a man who calls the misty heights [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Anup just loves and lives to paint


Inspired by the pastoral scenes of his childhood, the buzz of city life and the magic of the hills, this artist, whose latest exhibition captures his current mood, that time is running out and he has so much more to see and paint, talks to Duvindi Illankoon

For a man who calls the misty heights of the Knuckles Mountain Range his ‘girlfriend’, Anup Vega is surprisingly grounded in reality. His heart maybe atop the hills but his persona is one that is refreshingly down to earth and slightly bemused at his own resounding success. An abiding love of Jimi Hendrix and Indian classical music coupled with the great outdoors for inspiration probably defines this man’s personality; Anup Vega is an artist with no pretensions.

Anup: The artist on a journey with mother nature. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

We meet him just two days prior to his exhibition ‘Kalachakra (Wheel of Time)’ that opened on January 18 at the Paradise Road Galleries. Our hands are clasped in welcome and in a refreshing turn of role reversal Anup has already made us feel at home. The 45-year-old may have gained a reputation for the eccentric, but as with the best of them his talent on the canvas is what this eccentricity rides on. Why does he paint? “Just,” he shrugs genially. “I paint because I enjoy it. Do we really need another reason?” 

His paintings have hung at some of Sri Lanka’s leading exhibitions and adorned the homes of some of the country’s best known art connoisseurs, but as far as he is concerned the finished product doesn’t matter. It’s all about the journey to that final stroke of the paintbrush.

Anup hails from a tiny village in Kurunegala best known for its agricultural foundation. “We didn’t have much in the way of entertainment,” he smiles ruefully. “I grew up with Mother Earth as my companion; and what a fantastic companion she turned out to be. She is the inspiration for all my work.” He can’t really remember when it was that he began to paint because all he knows is that he’s been doing it for as long as he can remember.

In 1979, he moved to Colombo and was enrolled at Isipathana College for studies where his exasperated mother hoped he would develop at least a fleeting-if not abiding-love for academia. Predictably, this was not to be. “Coming into Colombo was amazing,” says Anup.

“The new sights, smells and sounds…it was like magic.” Many are the artists who complain about Colombo and its commercialisation but Anup blithely admits that Colombo was what broadened his horizons. “Kurunegala was a beautiful area to grow up in but as an artist I didn’t discover other great works till I came to Colombo.

I remember going to exhibitions, concerts and theatres..there was so much to see and absorb. For a 13-year-old that’s as good as it gets!” The likes of Laki Senanayake and George Keyt entered his sphere of consciousness and they’re the artists that he says inspired him to become the artist he is today.

The spell Colombo wove around him wasn’t strong enough to suppress his passion for the outdoors, however. “Colombo is amazing. But it’s a place to perform and exhibit and sell. It’s not a place to create,” he sighs. After a stint as a food and beverage artist at home and abroad, Anup moved back to Kurunegala to continue painting. 

Most of his time is spent travelling and exploring different landscapes. He might get thrown out of a village occasionally, but for Anup that only adds to the experience. “I like to give it my all. Sometimes you’ll find me camping out in the wilds. It’s fun.”

“The best part about painting is the process of doing so. Most people think it’s about adding the finishing touches,” he says. “Personally I think it’s about how your painting evolves. If I paint people working in a paddy field it will take some time. So every day the scene changes. The beauty is in capturing that constant change. Change is what defines this world.”

“Sometimes the villagers will come and watch me as I work. Some like it, some don’t. They’re the true connoisseurs of my work-they see the change and they see how I incorporate it into what I paint.” Artists have a responsibility to appeal to a cross section of people, he adds.

Paintings from his latest exhibition, ‘Kalachakra’

“There are those who believe that art needs to be socially conscious. That it needs to reflect these tough times; that it needs to be depressing,” he says. “That has never really appealed to me. My paintings focus on the positive. Isn’t that why people need the arts? To see the beautiful side even in times of distress?” 

As for that girlfriend of his; it’s an ambivalent relationship. “I moved to Kandy for about eight years to be with the Knuckles,” he grins. “But I’ve moved back to Pannala (in Kurunegala) now. My family prefers that!” Forget the mountains- his kids are definitely the love of his life. They’re his inspiration, he says. His son is “probably about 16 or 17” and his daughter “maybe 10”.

Anup doesn’t own a calendar, as you might have gathered. He doesn’t own a watch either. But he does have a nifty little BlackBerry which he laughingly jabs at in confusion. Laughingly, mind you. Technology is no mystery for Anup as it is for most of us-he’s also an amateur photographer and film maker.

His refusal to keep a watch or a calendar is not mere artistic eccentricity. “Sometimes I feel like this lifetime isn’t enough for everything I want to do,” he sighs. “There is so much to paint, so many beautiful things that nature has given us to capture on canvas. There will never be enough time for me to capture all that beauty.” That’s why this new exhibition is aptly titled Kalachakra-the Wheel of Time. 

For Anup Vega, who believes in the impossible before breakfast, the Earth is his garden and the universe is his home; and the easel and brush is his calling in life, no matter how unpredictable it may be.

Anup Vega’s exhibition Kalachakra can be viewed at the Paradise Road Galleries till February 7.

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