Updated: May 25

Sri Lankan artist SENAKA SENANAYAKE describes to Aashna his history, inspiration, process and love behind his art

"I want my paintings to talk... everyone from a street sweeper to a university professor should be able to relate to my art." (Senanayake, London)

Title: Macaws

Size: 4 Feet x 3 Feet

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Year: 2018

PC - Patrimonio Gallery

By the time Senanayake graduated from the prestigious Yale University with a degree in Art and Architecture in the early 1970s, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life creating art through paintings and sculpture.

This was, some critics might argue an afterthought; a formality that did not need an announcement. Because Senanayake had already achieved a considerable amount of fame in his formative years; starting to paint as a child and even holding a solo international exhibition in the US at the age of ten.

His graduation from Yale would be the catalyst in setting the wheels in motion for the phenomenal success he has realised to date with a steep career graph that has made him one of the most sought after and influential artists from South Asia in the past thirty years.

His paintings are nature-centric delving into the roots, blossoms, foliage with intensity in thought and colours only somebody who loves nature and loves life could create with precise imagination as well as passion. Senanayake has been hailed for bringing to life the kaleidoscope landscape of Sri Lanka in all its glory. His distinctions as a Sri Lankan painter of modern abstraction have been a continuum since 2005. He has devoted his voice and brush to protest against the continued deforestation of the Sri Lankan rainforests and supporting the need to re-plant trees to counterbalance rainforest lands lost to the development of tea plantations. Thus, with the intensity of thunder and focus of an eagle Senanayake had brought the plight of the Sri Lankan rainforest out of oblivion to world attention. In tandem, his paintings displayed the Sri Lankan vast lost heritage through his art which is a form of modern cubism and Impressionism finding its nucleus meshed in reality.

Some label Senanayake as a modern colourist inspired by Paul Klees and his timeless theories on colourization dating back to theories of Goethe, Runge, Delacroix and Kandinsky.

"I love vibrant pure intense colours."

The idea of colours about movement and how they interact with one and another is an oxymoronic “expected unexpected" colour theory that teaches you rudiments of colour pigments, intensity and mixing.

"Any artist will tell you that the results can be as random as the infinite combinations of colour mixing"

“I use multiple layers to achieve an effect which is as individual as each combination of colour in each layer of paint applied on the canvas."

Senanayake lives in Colombo and he works from a studio next to the house he grew up in and which has been the foundation for a meteoric career spanning 60 years.

From the dreams inspired in the garden of his childhood home filled with leaves, the open-air courtyard smelling of fresh flowers and sweetgrass, buzzing with the hum of bees and shimmering with fluttering butterflies: Senanayake's journey as an artist has taken him to the world and he has brought the world home. His world-class studio is built in the garden which inspired his dreams.

Title: Butterflies

Size: 4 Feet x 4 Feet

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Year: 2013

PC - Patrimonio Gallery

My conversation with Senaks Senanayake from his studio in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

AA: You started painting when you were very young....

SS: I started painting when I was six. I had my first show when I was 7 years old when I was in primary school. Our teacher had a very good program. She put wrapping paper and would take gouache and put it up on the wall. Then, the teacher would ask the children to make animals and make art that would be put on the wall for display. This was lots of fun.

Eventually, I started painting with poster colours on paper. My father's friend was the chairman of the Art Council of Sri Lanka. When he visited, he saw my paintings hanging on the wall. He suggested to my father that we organize an exhibition of my work at the National Art Gallery and that is how my art career started. So I had a one-man show. And one thing led to another: through articles on the exhibition, communications on the show, my career gradually picked up from there.

In school, the Principal got an idea and suggested that I make paintings for an exhibition to be auctioned with the money to be put towards the development of a new swimming pool for the school. And so I painted some paintings which were exhibited in Colombo at an art gallery and it was successful as the entire collection was sold.

Then I met a gentleman from the Smithsonian Institute visiting Sri Lanka, He was impressed by what he saw. He thought I was a genius and requested to visit my studio.

He got me thinking and we had a long chat. At that time I was in the eleventh grade. He asked what I wanted to do with my life. In our society at the time in Sri Lanka, people wanted their children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, or accountants because that was what the family members took up professionally also. I w do something creative like architecture. I like doing many things like writing articles-because that is creative- I thought.