TV Times

Sachin Keyt speaks about father
By Manjari Peiris
“My father was a very honest, faithful and kindhearted person. He was childlike so anyone could deceive him.” said Sachin Keyt, the only son of Sri Lanka’s most distinguished and renowned modern painter, George Keyt. He resides at Sirimalwatte, Gunnepana, Kandy.

George Keyt was born in Ampitiya in the hill capital, Kandy in Sri Lanka in 1901. His parents were Henry Keyt and Constance Sproule who were of Indu-Dutch origin. He was educated in Trinity College Kandy. His passion for art began while he was still at school. Keyt won his first art prize at the age of 15 and his public exhibit was a drawing using pen and ink shown at the annual exhibition of the Ceylon Society of Arts. Since then he had held more than 25 one-man exhibitions in Sri Lanka.

Apart from his excellence in drawing, George Keyt developed a consuming passion for books and reading. He was greatly influenced by the writings and personality of Rabindra Nath Tagore and studied Hinduism in depth and became a Buddhist. The influence of Picasso, Braque and Leger always connected his roots with Indian traditions. His explorations in Hindu mythology and Indian literature led him to close links with the cultural life of India where he lived for long and short periods from 1939 to late seventies.

The teachings of the Buddha had influenced George Keyt from an early age, which enriched his role in the art through his works later in life. He was greatly drawn towards Buddhism as soon as he understood the enduring appeal of its basic concepts. He wrote profusely (prose and verse) to Buddhist publications. In the meantime he contributed decorative drawings on religious subjects. From the beginning he maintained a degree of individuality in his drawings.

George Keyt extensively featured Jataka stories (stories of Buddha’s previous births) in his artwork. He has done murals on temples depicting monastic court and village life of old times which are of great interest and of rear quality. The paintings of Nayika by Keyt represent a special high point of perfection. The Nayika paintings have inspired the most exquisite North Indian miniature paintings. His Nayika paintings of the 1940s are gems of disarming sensuality and grace. They do not require reference to this essentially literary tradition. They are simple, unadorned and free of elaborate jewelry. His Nayika paintings during this period easily associated with a distinctly Sri Lankan rural setting.

George Keyt initiated to establish one of the most influential art groups in Sri Lanka in 1943 and formed 43 groups in number of European countries from 1952 onwards. Many of his paintings were taken to London for exhibition and have been lying there for over 40 years.

“He has written more than 15 books. He translated folk stories including Geethagovinda by Jayadeva, from Sanskrit to English. That’s the best translation ever done! The specialty of it was he had used the exact words to give it the real meaning so that one gets the real feeling by reading it! Out of the many translations of Geethagovinda, universities in England used his translation. “ said Sachin.

“He started his painting work in 1920s. Since then he was really taken to arts due to the influence of his good friend and close relation, Mr. Lionel Wendt, a great pianist, art critic and photographer. He guided my father to be a professional painter. Meanwhile he continued with his writing work too! But his profession was painting. In 1920 his paintings were somewhat realistic. In 1930s paintings were Picasso’s style. Then in 1940s somewhat stylized. During the Nayika period, so many sunshine, greenery, Kandyan scenery etc. could be seen. He used powerful lines and colours in classical raga without harming raga and melody. He was a lover of Indian classical music. Sometimes he painted so many ragas. While I was playing the Sitar he listened to them and painted the ragas such as Malkosh and Hindol whilst enjoying the music. He painted what he felt. Most of his time he spent in painting. He himself did not know how many paintings he had done.” Sachin explained.

His work has been introduced and praised by eminent critics such as Herbert Read, William Archer, Andre Chamson, George Besson, Mulk Raj Anand, E.M. Forster, John Berger and William Graham.

According to Sachin, “His paintings are found in various museums and galleries and with private collectors around the world and they have been exhibited in Indian, British, European and American art galleries. He had held more than 60 exhibitions in England, India, and Europe and in Sri Lanka. He had been offered with awards. He refused to accept the Knighthood award offered to him, as he was not a person who persuaded publicity and was not keen in getting titles. But in 1968 the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya recognized his immense contribution to the cultural history of his times and offered on him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. Other official institutions have bestowed on him awards for his artistic excellence."

The majestic output of this most illustrious painter who strived hard for over seventy years with artistic vision is the splendid display of unceasing and untiring vigour and pure radiance. Using his supremely animated hands and magical language seen through his artistic eyes he depicted his creativities.

“My father was a mobile library, he had that much knowledge. He could speak Hindi, English and Sinhala and he was a scholar in Sanskrit. He was like a computer. Everything was absorbed in there and he had a remarkable memory. His mind was clear to the extent that he could remember anything. He was 92 when he died."

“He never painted portraits. He just imagined and painted. My father used to paint mostly women highlighting “Divine Love”.

“My style of painting is entirely different from my father’s. Most of my time is being spent on music. I teach Hindustani classical music. I too have held painting exhibitions in Sri Lanka, Europe and India. Once I held an exhibition of paintings of my daughter’s and mine. We look forward to holding another in near future after 2-3 months duration with the paintings of my father, my daughter’s, and mine most probably at Lionel Wendt. We may call it “Of Three Generations.”

There is no link at all with the George Keyt Foundation and my family. As a son of this great painter George Keyt, I have no place in this Foundation. They don’t recognize me and the President takes decisions as in One Man Show. But every year they send me invitations to participate at Nava Kala Karuvo Kala Pola. My father’s name is being exploited. They don’t have any idea about art. Even when my father was living this Foundation did not give him the due place.

As the only son of a famous and great painter I have no link with the George Keyt Foundation whatsoever. I am against that the George Keyt Foundation, which was established in my father’s name and is getting the sponsorship of tobacco and alcohol manufacturers. I am non-smoker.


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