Sri Lankan artist S.H. Sarath at the UN | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan artist S.H. Sarath at the UN

“It is the glory and good of Art, that art remains the one way possible of speaking truth...”

Robert Browning (1812-89)

British poet

A selection of paintings by the renowned Sri Lankan artist S.H. Sarath, was displayed at U.N., in early February.

The request made to this veteran, mainstream Sri Lankan artist to exhibit his work at the UN is an exquisite tribute paid to this Individual Artist and through him, to the total domain of Art and culture of Sri Lanka.

We must extend our profound gratitude to Ambassador and Sri Lanka Permanent Representative at the UN Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera for arranging this globally significant venue for the display of Sri Lankan Art.

The time of the exhibition is, by itself surprisingly serendipitous.

The Fourth of February marked the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence. At a personal level artist S.H. Sarath has just passed his 70th birthday.

When S.H. Sarath trekked (as it were) to New York, for his exhibition at the UN, he had just completed 50 years, since he migrated from the village of his birth in the deep south, to cosmopolitan Colombo.

The convergence of all these streaks elevated the exhibition to an exceptionally significant stature.

At the time his art reached New York, it had, through a whole series of evolutionary phases, matured into an unmistakable personal style. The whimsical and surrealistically individualized elements of his latest works, possess a capacity to overwhelm, bewilder and benumb the viewer into a land of strange region of modern myths and fairy-tales. At times, they are far from fairy lands, since diabolical characters inhabit his landscapes.

These presentations, enable the viewer to peer into his inner-being. S.H. Sarath’s soul is perpetually agitated by a ceaseless restlessness. The startling, and in many instances shocking, outcome of this, is the ‘eruption’ of a surprising range of creations, that earn the sobriquet ‘eccentric’ in the positive and wholesome sense. His stylistic manifestations are starkly unorthodox – not only calling for but even commanding a fresh response.

S.H. Sarath has acquired such a massive reputation for his out-of-the-box imagination, that, the announcement of a new exhibition of his work, is quite likely to engender in the would-be-viewers a suspenseful hesitation, about the kind of monster or angel (or for that matter – monstro-angel) he is going to unleash on the public domain – this time around. S.H. Sarath is the only artist – in the long Sri Lankan tradition to derive vigour, stamina and telling-power, from what could very well be described as Breaking News. S.H. Sarath converts to art, what is occurring in society at this moment.

The usual thematic preoccupations of artists, limit them to sun-sets, rural life, waterfalls, clouds, trees as the right material for paintings.

S.H. Sarath without any doubt – is the only mainstream artist, to shatter the shackles of convention and deal with such issues as consumer price fluctuations, human conflicts – the day-to-day harassments that torture the masses. His radical departure from the norm – is quite a dramatic move. The overwhelming whimsicality S.H. Sarath conjures up in his brand of art is exclusively and exceptionally his own.

The ironic barbs he aims at the faults and the foibles of folk at all levels, have now begun to be a permanent part of his creative armoury. This indicates the phase at which the artist becomes social commentator – teetering on the verge of being an aggressive social reformer.

His new series of monochrome works, targeted primarily on the Sri Lankan society of our day, is the declaration of a form of art war against elements of society, that deserve to be recognized as the new field of lush themes, for the humanely moved artist. When the artist derives inspiration from such urges, art takes on a functional dimension, over and above being only aesthetic adornments.

S.H. Sarath has travelled a long and arduous way, seeking his creative mission’s role.

In the formative years, the temple murals were ready sources to stir incipient enthusiasm.

Academic training sharpened the tools. His personal trait of being critical of what is going on in society around him, made him an aggressive explorer of social trends.

As of today, he has scaled impossible heights to gain a vantage point for his creative survey of life. This is very much the role of an ageing seer.

His ‘pilgrimage’ to UN, is a significant landmark in his creative voyage. Many countries have honoured his creativity by prominent displays of his works.

But, when it comes to our beloved land, we have not been able to usher in an age where art and artists are fittingly adored.

In most countries the purchase of art works, is symbolic of cultural elitism. We have some miles to go to reach that point. But, Sarath has returned from the UN earning a glory, which should even obliquely affect our aesthetic sense.