P413 is at the Colpetty end of Marine Drive. He has just stumbled upon the perfect canvas; a crumbling wall on the sea front, just perfect for the consistency of the wall paint he likes using for his work. He has just begun to slap some of it on when a policeman approaches. “What’re you [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Some paint, a street and voila!

“You paint what you want, how you want,” says street artist P413 who’s holding his maiden exhibition at the Saskia Fernando gallery

P413 is at the Colpetty end of Marine Drive. He has just stumbled upon the perfect canvas; a crumbling wall on the sea front, just perfect for the consistency of the wall paint he likes using for his work. He has just begun to slap some of it on when a policeman approaches.

“What’re you doing, ah?”

For P413, this is the mother of all questions-it’s one he is asked many a time and even though he will largely identify himself as a street artist he struggles to come up with an exact explanation. “I’m not too sure what happens when I get some paint and a brush,” he tells us. “It’s strange. Almost like magic.” In the dry world of figures and balance sheets there is little of this ‘magic’ to be found for this 25-year-old accountant. So he finds his refuge in the world of paint and street.

It all began in 2008, the year he left school and discovered that a canvas was not the only outlet for an artist. All he learnt came from the internet. “It’s a goldmine.” Discovering street art had a strange effect on him; he found his work losing that sense of boundary that canvas-based artists often have to contend with. “In street art, there is no established norm or technique,” he says. “You paint what you want, how you want.”

P413’s work defies the stereotypes of street art; the eye-poppingly bright colours and practically cartoonish figures of his newest collection of paintings are so in contrast with the ghetto imagery of street culture that you’ll almost find it difficult to believe that this is currently in vogue in Europe. “I wasn’t too fond of the idea of being a street artist at first,” he says. “Because what I thought I knew of street art culture was pretty grim and violent. But when I was reading more into it I found that street art is not necessarily about decapitated hands and politically oriented drawing.”

He strongly believes that sometimes “people just want to look at a painting and be happy.” His new exhibition at the Saskia Fernando Gallery is testament to this. ‘Tar Wars’ is P413’s way of bringing street into the confines of a gallery-literally. The exhibition is the result of the many hours he spends travelling to and from Colombo for his work. As a consultant, P413 spends more time than he should stuck in traffic and this is his way of dealing with the inevitable frustration and impotent rage he laughingly calls “more stressful than work itself!”

For example, you’ll find a painting titled ‘Peliyagoda Junction’. This is his seminal work of sorts for the exhibition, a rather accurate visual description of that particular place at any point of the day. “I spend so much of my time being stuck in traffic at this junction,” he groans, so it’s only fair that he gets to draw it. From the vivid portrayals of the vehicles that almost look alive (and very irritated) to the zombie-like figures walking in the midst of this traffic, this is a painting that he knows will resonate with any viewer familiar with the Sri Lankan network of roads. ‘Spaced Out’ is a portrayal of pedestrians lost in thought, ‘Bus X Tuk’ represents the “two most dangerous things on the road” and ‘My Brain the Circus’ is a portrayal of the many thoughts that compete for attention in his head when he’s stuck at a traffic jam.

This is his first solo exhibition and though P413’s strongest desire is to continue working in anonymity he’s quite excited at the prospect of his work getting out there. His art, he explains, serves a higher purpose and this is also the story behind that intriguing name. “I call myself P413 after a verse in the Bible that says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. I still don’t believe that as an individual, I can draw. To me there is no reasonable justification that when I sit down I draw these lines with my hand and it emerges as a picture. That is the work of God. Somehow He saw fit to give me this gift so to be honest; I draw because that makes God happy.”

P413’s ultimate goal is to figure out a way to keep painting while retaining the ‘human part’. This is because he finds himself pulling back into himself when he spends such long hours working on his paintings. “I don’t want to be an introvert,” he explains. “But as an artist I spend a lot of time working solo so after a while you begin to prefer your own company.” This is why he occasionally works as part of a group-the P413 Mob has done a fair few commissions in and around Colombo as of now.

Though street art is traditionally a rough culture, P413 has no plans to bring that aspect into his work. “I will never vandalise private property or steal my paint,” he’s quick to point out. “That’s not art.” So when he told that cop in Colpetty that he was only trying to make the city look pretty, he actually meant it. Then why the anonymity? Like everything else about the artist, the answer is quite straightforward. “Because it shouldn’t be about me in the first place. I don’t think people need to know my name to know who I am-let my art speak for myself.”

Tar Wars, his first solo exhibition, is undeniably an apt expression of what goes on inside his head. Drop in at the Saskia Fernando Gallery on Dharmapala Mawatha before July 25 for a date with P413, a street artist determined to paint outside the box.

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