The wilds in muted shades
By Vidushi Seneviratne
Wildlife is her life. Painting is her gift.

"Thanks to my father, I've lived practically all my life surrounded by animals, hence my interest in the subject," says Nirmala De Alwis.

As the daughter of Lyn De Alwis, a renowned director of the Zoo and later of the Wildlife Department, most of her younger days had been spent within the close proximity of many wild animals.

"My father's official bungalow was inside the zoo itself, so I got a chance of growing up with lion and leopard cubs as pets," said Nirmala. Added Mr. De Alwis "We always pull her leg and tell her that she was born in a zoo!"

With her father being appointed as the Director of Wildlife, Nirmala made frequent visits to wildlife parks such as Yala and Wilpattu. All this exposure helped to increase her already established interest in nature.

Educated at Ladies' College, art was never a subject she studied for any major examination, but she attended the Mudliyar Amarasekara art classes and also studied under another art teacher, S. Miththapala. Her formal training in art came when she majored in Fine Arts at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore. At the moment, she is attached to an advertising company J.W.T., and works for the Creative Department.

Her talents not just being limited to painting, Nirmala even designs her own jewellery using clay, bamboo, sea shells, coconut shells and copper wire.

These creations are available, along with hand painted greeting cards at her own gallery "Vana-ras", adjoining her home in Mount Lavinia. "There are tourists who regularly visit the gallery. And of course I have young boys coming to get little accessories for their girl friends," she adds mischievously.

Nirmala held her maiden exhibition right after leaving school in 1988, and it was titled "A brush with animals". Keeping with her theme of wildlife, another was titled "Draw to the Wild". Last year's was dedicated to elephants and so was called "Hasthy".

To give her paintings a natural touch, she uses mixed media. The range of materials include oil paints, acrylics, charcoal and pastels. Among the more unusual materials used are coloured paper pulp and "matulla", a net-like casing found on the coconut tree.

"It's the closest I can get to portraying the elephant's skin," says Nirmala, explaining the use of matulla in her paintings. What strikes the viewer is that the majority of Nirmala's paintings have a sombre aspect to them. Explains Nirmala, "In Sri Lanka, wildlife has reached a sad plight. People are killing elephants and it's the same with most of the other animals as well. Even if anyone does do something for wildlife, it's for some sort of personal benefit. The sober colours used in my paintings portray these feelings."

"Homeless in Paradise", is on today at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery.

Segar's collage cartoonism
Impressionist artist Segar will hold his 24th one man exhibition at the Bishop's College auditorium on November 4 and 5.

Fifteen years is quite a long time in the life of an artist and in the development of his art. Hence we can expect changes in his art. Fortunately or unfortunately, to Segar's credit, there is not much change that we could detect except for the better.

His paintings in watercolours, oils and some attempts at collage are still very much Segar. The artist as a man has matured somewhat, though still rather irrepressible and modest about his abilities and achievements, his likes and dislikes. Frankly, 'cubism' is not our cup of tea.

But it does not mean that there is no room for it in our social scene. Besides, it is not too cubist in content as to put us off. Admittedly there is a lot of Segar in it.

This time, his colours are toned down and more muted with the softer blues and greens predominating, though an occasional vermilion shows up where required. There is much gray and black. All rather sober in contrast to what we remember as predominant vermilion, at his last exhibition at the Lionel Wendt in 1998.

One slightly disturbing feature is his new departure into 'collage cartoonism' which in itself is not a bad thing for all artists to master.

But judging from the 'Tea Plucker' with the bull's head, for which the artist says tea pluckers work like bulls, and 'The Queen of Jews', both show a tendency towards caricature, which is a pity in an artist of Segar's standing.

We sincerely hope Segar does not allow himself to slip deeper into the field of obvious caricature to the exclusion of his mature paintings. He describes his style of line drawings as 'painting as a child would' and presumably as a child sees! This we feel would be a retrograde step for an artist whose style is already so definitive.

Experimenting with collage too is a similar recession.

Segar has always shown a keen awareness of social issues. This was well illustrated in several paintings in the past on environment, and religion which I guess he will not fail to remind us of at his forthcoming exhibition at the Bishop's College auditorium. He also expresses concern over the effects of terrorism on our people and on the environment.

The tea plucker
By Segar
Among the slums of the slopes the elegant figure of hers
With shattered hopes and unmet wants, works and toils Her sweat and her blood go to the earth and the 'leeches' And her wages she donates involuntarily to her employers

The haunting face of the victim of our economic cause
Metamorphosed my mind into a bull's face

SOSL Premiere Concert : A journey through time and places
By Satish Goonesinghe
An operatic overture .......a theme and its variations .............a concerto for three instruments.

The premiere concert of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL) held on October 26, was a grand treat for lovers of western classical music.

The concert covered three works that were composed at different times in the 19th century in Germany and England - in a way it was a journey through time and places. The concert opened with Karl Otto Nicolai's overture to "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (1849). The original opera is based closely on Shakespeare's play of the same title. However a knowledge of the play was not required to appreciate the overture. Its performance was good but the beauty of this opening piece was totally eclipsed by the grandeur of the two subsequent works that were performed that evening.

Then came the work that I was looking forward to listening to - Ludwig van Beethoven's Triple Concerto, Opus 56 - for piano, violin and cello (1804). This work which balances the different timbres of the three solo instruments and that of the orchestra, was performed really well by the three Sri Lankan soloists and the SOSL under the baton of Ajith Abeysekara.

Ananda Dabare on the violin gave an excellent interpretation of the work reflecting the distinct 'personality' of the violin. He has made immense strides since his debut with the SOSL (the Symphony Orchestra of Colombo as it was then known) in the mid 1980s as a violinist. Dushyanthi Perera (cello) and Ramya De Livera Perera (piano) too performed brilliantly together with Dabare, illustrating the beauty of their respective instruments. Dushyanthi Perera was clever in exerting the individuality of the cello, changing the traditional role of it providing bass to an orchestra. The piano soloist - De Livera Perera added colour to the performance with her relaxed rendition of the challenging piano parts of the concerto.

Another fact that impressed me was that there were many youngsters drawn from the National Youth Orchestra of Sri Lanka playing with the SOSL. That is the way forwards in nurturing the latent musical talents of the youth.

The other positive feature was the pre-concert talk given by Dr. Lalith Perera. It was a great trend set in motion - following the path of the current BBC Promenade Concerts where 'Pre-proms talks' are held preceding selected Promenade concerts.

Sugathapala: Dramatist who dared to be different
"When I was told that my script had been accepted by the Arts Council (for the annual Drama Festival), I realized I had no money to produce the play. A friend took me to an Afghan money lender in Slave Island and arranged for a loan of Rs. 100. I only got Rs. 80 - the money lender had kept back the first month's interest. He also asked me for the bus route number and from where I got down to go to office. And faithfully, the day after pay day he would wait for me in the corridor next to Cargills. With the interest money in my hand, I would go along the corridor. He would walk behind me with his left hand hanging down. At a convenient spot our hands would meet and the Rs. 20 would be passed on."

This is how Sugathapala de Silva began his career as a dramatist. It was 1962. The play was 'Bordingkarayo' . Even the day before the show, he was not sure of staging it. The reason - lack of a drawing room suite for the stage set. A businessman from Panchikawatta gave Rs. 25 to hire a set. The play was staged. Versatile actor G. W.Surendra turned out a stunning performance. 'Bordingkarayo' was adjudged the Best Play of the Year. It also won the award for the Best Script.

Sugath recapped the early days in a short article he wrote in November 1998 for the felicitation volume published by the Sinhala Drama Panel of the Arts Council appreciating his service to Sinhala theatre. He wrote it in between his illness which confined him to a wheel chair following a paralytic stroke. "I was on the verge of death recently. So I had time to look back", he wrote. He remembered with gratitude two of his bosom pals who pushed him towards creative work. One was Cyril B. Perera, who was contributing a series to the 'Sinhala Jatiya' where Sugath served as a translator and also edited the arts page. The other was G. W. Surendra who was the deputy editor of 'Jatiya' newspapers and later joined the British High Commission to edit its news journal.

Sugath recalls the day he first reviewed a play for his newspaper. It was Henry Jayasena's 'Manamalayo' based on Sheridan's 'The Rivals'. "I liked it. It was done well. I wrote that the adaptation was better than the original." A member of the editorial staff asked Sugath who Henry Jayasena was, whether he was a friend of his. "I have seen him once including the day I saw the play," Sugath told him. Cyril advised him not to worry about such talk. 'I too saw the play. Your feelings are revealing,' he told Sugath.

When Surendra left the High Commission to join the 'Dawasa' newspaper, he 'fixed' that job for Sugath. Cyril, who was attached to the Indian High Commission, Surendra and Sugath met regularly and discussed common topics mainly relating to theatre and cinema. The group gradually expanded with that brilliant photographer Ralex Ranasinghe, Augustus Vinayagaratnam, Piyasiri Nagahawatta and Vipula Dharmawardena joining them. As a rule Sugath was critical of the plays that were being staged at the time. "Why won't you write one," was the challenge from his friends. That's how he wrote 'Bordingkarayo'. It also marked the birth of 'Ape Kattiya', the rebel theatregroup.

It was the beginning of a highly successful career for Sugath. Theatregoers just waited for his plays. He kept on writing and producing them - one play a year. Tattu Geval (1964), Harima Badu Hayak (1965), Hele Negga Dong Putha (1966), Nil Katrol Mal (1967), Hitha Honda Ammandi (1969) and Dunna Dunu Gamuwe (1972). In all he had 16 dramas to his credit. Not all of them were successful but each became the talking point of the day. Critics hailed 'Dunna Dunu Gamuwe' as a high point in his career until the arrival of 'Marasad' (1976) which is acclaimed as his best.

Sugath introduced a whole host of players to the stage. They were an extremely talented lot and are household names even today. G. W. Surendra, Tony Ranasinghe, Wickrema Bogoda, Navanandana Wijesinghe, Prema Ganegoda, Malini Weeramuni and W. Jayasiri is a list picked up at random.

Sugath was a bold writer. Whatever he wrote became the talking point. "Why are we afraid of words," he wrote in the programme note for 'Harima Badu Hayak'. "Why do we use dots when we put down certain words which are in common use every day," he asked. "Are we such purists, are we are so civilised?"

He was in and out of Radio Ceylon (later SLBC) as a drama producer. 'Vellata Giya Geheniya' was his first radio play. That was in 1968. He started writing novels with 'Bitti Hatara' and wrote at least eight. The most recent was 'Amuthu Ilandariya' , the Sinhala version of Shyam Selvadurai's 'Funny Boy', which he completed in between his illness. Artistes loved Sugath. They formed the 'Sugathapala de Silva Rekavarana Padanama' to help him out during his illness which forced him to move away from his creative efforts. However, when he partially recovered, he made it a point to be at a play or an event with wife Sheila by his side. He attended the launch of 'Amuthu Ilandariya' at the Public Library auditorium just a little over a month ago and obliged many an autograph hunter although he was feeling tired and exhausted. I didn't expect him to recognise me but he did, and we exchanged a few words reminding me of the old days.

His was a long journey from Midigama in Weligama. Having passed his English senior he started life as an English teacher at Egodakanda Mixed School in Nildahdahinna. He managed a printing press at Gampola for a while and after a stint at 'Sinhala Jatiya', went back there until he joined KVG Silva Bookshop as an accounts clerk. "I loved books. That's why I came there for a monthly salary of Rs. 75 which was increased to Rs. 200 in two months. Joining the British High Commission meant a jump of Rs. 400 ," he recalled in his article to 'Abhinaya.'

Sugath revolutionised Sinhala theatre. His was a silent contribution. He brought back the once popular dialogue play. He was a daring dramatist.
D. C. Ranatunga

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