Charmaine expresses her 'self' in Svayam
Svayam is a Sanskrit word that, in essence, means 'self': its
interpretation varies within each context.
The paintings and drawings exhibited by Charmaine in her latest
exhibition are, in her own words, "an expression of myself, my feelings,
my experiences, my escape; they are my meditations, my relaxation, and
the meanderings of my mind, whilst my body is firmly rooted in the
According to Charmaine, her only employment of technique is in the
tree drawings. "They are the result of my mentor, Karunasiri
Wijesinghe's inspiration, encouragement and training, although in my own
estimation I fall far short of the perfection he requires. For me, the
drawings have been a giant step in my progress. The black and white
designs are the creative wanderings of my pen, done mostly on long
airline flights. My mind just follows the meanderings of my hand, and I
get lost in their creation. The colour pencil work tries to capture the
unseen nuances of colour in Nature. The colour washes are experimental,
I just go with the flow, at times trying to interfere, sometimes
successfully, sometimes not. Admittedly frustrating on occasion, but
According to Charmaine, those who have guided her over the years
include Miss Benedicta de Silva at St Bridget's Convent, more recently
Anoma Wijewardene, and her school friend, Lathifa Ismail, who for many
years has been, and still is, her guide and friend in need. "They have
inspired, taught and instilled in me many aspects of Art. I hope I have
absorbed at least some of what they have tried to impart, enabling me to
make my own statement today", she said.
Like a diamond, Charmaine is a many faceted woman, who has excelled
in all her endeavours.
Two of Charmaine's abiding hobbies were spending time in the jungles,
and reading. "The love of the jungles came from my father, and my
interest, and later love of trees from my mother. My father was a hunter
and went shooting very often. It was natural for me to follow suit on
our regular trips to the jungles.
"My mother introduced me to dancing. I absolutely loved dancing and
was keen, to learn any form of it. I truly believe that I was born to
dance," she said. In 1954, Charmaine Vanderkoen Mendis was the first Sri
Lankan to perform a Bharatha Natya Arangetram in Sri Lanka. In the
following year she gave a Solo performance at the Museum Theatre,
Madras, at the Ninth South Indian Natya Kala Conference, followed by
performances in Colombo and Jaffna. Her Guru was one of the last great
masters of the Tanjore Tradition, Shri T.S. Govindarajapillai.
One of her creations
At the Gala Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in
1954, she partnered Sesha Palihakkara, her Guru in (Manipuri and Kathak)
in the lead role of Damayanthi, in Nala Damayanthi. She has also danced
in London on stage and on BBC TV when Indian Dance was little known.
Dance critic Arnold Haskell and Prima Ballerina Margot Fonteyn were
greatly impressed by her dancing . Her early training in dance was in
Western Ballet, which she learnt under Marjorie Sample.
Later on, as a pupil of Timmy Ingleton, she studied Tap Dancing, and
was a regular performer at all the Ingleton School presentations. She
has also learnt and performed Spanish Dancing under Yvonne Bradley and
Pauline Wicks. In her teens she learnt and performed Manipuri Dance
under Sukhendu Dutt and Sesha Palihakkara, Kathak under Sesha and
Kandyan Dancing under Gurus Heen Baba Dharmasiri, Nittawela M Somadasa
and Sri Jayana.
As regards Art, Charmaine was always keen on sketching and drawing,
mostly landscapes with trees. "They were always leafless as I was unsure
just how to draw leaves. I never succeeded in conquering perspective,
and was aware of this. Somehow I managed to sneak in a painting or two,
into the Annual Art Show of St Bridget's Convent, and surprisingly, even
won the Art Prize one year".The turning point in Charmaine's artistic
life came in 2005 when she went to see an exhibition of black and white
tree drawings by Karunasiri Wijesinghe. "I was absolutely enthralled,
and it was then that I knew beyond a doubt that this was how I wanted to
draw trees. I immediately enrolled at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts,
where he was teaching, and began learning to draw, from the basic cube
upwards. I soon moved on to real life trees, learning all the subtleties
of light and shade, texture and grain and much more.
When Karunasiri's contract was over, he agreed to start a class at
home, where two or three of us began working together. We sketched from
life, going out of Colombo on sketching trips, even to Yala for a whole
five days of serious work, not animal viewing. The results of those
trips and our weekly classes, was Vruksha, an exhibition of black and
white drawings of the trees of Sri Lanka. This was in 2011. The new
exhibition titled 'Svayam', is a Sanskrit word with many meanings. I
have used it in the context of "self".