Come, see our treasures

By Esther Williams

‘An Odyssey in Watercolour and Pastel Paintings’, an exhibition by renowned artist Royden O. Gibbs, aims to bring the beauty of the country under one roof. To be held at the Harold Pieris Gallery, Lionel Wendt from June 24 noon to 26, the exposition features an assortment of paintings he has done over 20 years.

“I want to show people that they are blessed with so much that they need to look after and treasure it,” Royden says. Having travelled the length and breadth of Sri Lanka for over three decades, the artist is in love with the country, that, according to him is steeped in beauty, history and culture.

His subjects often include forts, lighthouses, railway stations, temples and other historical monuments, apart from the beauty of nature. Whether it is the Moratuwa River at 5.30 a.m., the Nawala bridge or Baker’s falls at another time, the artist is there to portray scenes like they really are. Most of his landscapes illustrate natural beauty like the islands around Jaffna or elephants crossing a river or the mountain range near Kandalama.

Also featured in his paintings are delightful rural scenes depicting wild life, the rich foliage and vanishing occupations such as snake charmers, cane weavers and cart pullers that although seemingly insignificant reveal the diversity of the country. He sees his role as that of a camera and more.

To his distress, some of his subjects no longer exist, a sizeable portion of them destroyed by the tsunami. “The younger generation can hopefully be proud when they see such paintings, a record of our rich heritage,” the artist remarks, pointing out that to him art is a way of communicating.

Having started as a portrait artist, Royden stumbled onto landscape painting quite by chance. Not a person to sit at his studio and paint, Royden is off on his jaunts, almost every week to various parts of the island to study the sunlight, its reflection and the distribution of colour both in the East and West. “It is a luxury to be myself, meditate, study nature, eat simple food, enjoy the breeze, take a dip in the river and paint,” says the artist.

Each time he travels he sees new facets he wishes to portray. By painting at the site he is able to capture the true natural colours rather than when painting from a photograph, although he uses them for reference. A disciplined artist, Royden prefers to show reality scenes unlike those who paint from their imagination. Such pictures sometimes evoke criticism and this certainly presents a challenge to him.

Royden’s paintings have been displayed in England, Australia, France, Holland, Japan and India. He has also had the rare honour of being chosen for a solo exhibition to showcase Sri Lankan art in Paris by the Director of Alliance Francaise. He has won several accolades for his work and he is currently a senior partner of the George Keyt Foundation. Royden is in the process of planning an exhibition solely on lighthouses of the country, all of which he has painted with the exception of the ones at Mullaitivu and the two Basses.

Keen to share his knowledge with aspiring artists Royden has students from various nationalities. “The students are the artists and I am merely their signboard pointing to them the direction they should take.” With them he takes day trips to the beach or the Bolgoda lake and temples that give them an opportunity to learn some history of the place and other background information.

Royden’s exhibition is sponsored by F & G Property Developers (Pvt) Ltd


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