An escape into quietude | Sunday Observer

An escape into quietude

13 May, 2018

On March 10, this year I visited artist Priya Goonetilleke’s latest exhibition titled ‘Escape 2’ at the Lionel Wendt gallery. What met the eye was an array of colours and forms depicting facets of the artist’s interests in both external objects such as, landscapes and inner sentiments. The works had several themes and showed variation in styles. One of the noticeable themes was the black and white landscape drawings.

And, akin to this segment of the body of work on display was another collection of landscape paintings that were sparse in colouration. Landscapes of a black and white theme were thus made to have propinquity with landscapes which were modest in colour and somewhat sombre.

And then, there were also landscapes with more depth of colour but in compliance with the feeling of sombreness that seemed to generally pervade over that particular segment of the works on display. Landscapes which formed the central part of the collection had thus a triple layering on the basis of application of colour, but generally bound by a common layer of emotions.

There was a noticeable lack of human life in many of the landscape paintings. It was as though the artist wanted to depict landscapes free of the human element and perhaps, presenting a more ‘pristine moment’ of stillness of nature. Interestingly, there were also landscape pieces that showed elements of nature harmoniously woven with elements of manmade topography, such as, arched bridges, ancient stone stairways and tree huts. But, there seemed a clear need for the artist to keep those scenes which were given form by her brush, ‘human free’. It was as though the idea of ‘abandonment’ was sketched onto the canvas. ‘Beauty that now enjoys quietude as it is now free of human intrusion’ the paintings seem to say.

There is beauty in those pieces born of solitude. It is perhaps the artist viewing the world in moments of perfect peace, clear of any human presence. I could not help but feel that many of those landscape pieces, in which some did have subtle presence of animal life, carry a feeling of lonesomeness. It is as much as an ‘escape’ as a search for peace and tranquillity.

Apart from the landscape pieces, Goonetilleke also had a selection of portraits on display. They were not of the realist tradition meant to depict the subjects as true to life portraiture. Those pieces were of a more expressionist vein.

Line drawings were born out of spontaneity. Among the pieces in the collection of ‘Escape 2’ that caught my eye was one that was revealed as a work inspired by the late Nedra Vittachi, a multitalented personality who was a playwright, director, songwriter, journalist and poet. The painting is called ‘Pasteboard Crown’, and I was told by the artist, that it is in fact the title of a play by Vittachi. It is not a painting of a scene but a symbolic figuration of forms and colours. There is liveliness in that piece which also indicates a vein of ‘theatricality’ that has been ‘stilled’. Perhaps, it is an artistic statement of how the talented Vittachi and her work in theatre are now ‘stilled memories’.

Goonetilleke’s collection of paintings in ‘Escape 2’ will not meet the eye as works of pristine classicism of the old school but a mix of various styles with more modern modes of expression. Her black and white landscape scenes seem well defined and to result from an understanding of how contours and lines can have subtle flexes to give the visual dimension of being a depiction of the artist’s ‘rendition’ of what was perceived by the eye but given an identity of its own and not meant to stand as a ‘hand drawn photograph’.

While I would not venture to say there is absolute uniqueness in Goonetillake’s landscapes I would certainly not call them banal either. There is definite character that is noteworthy in most of the pieces that formed ‘Escape 2’.

I would, on a personal note, say that more boldness in experimentation with themes, form and colour would have added a more vibrant facet to ‘Escape 2’. For example, the subject of theatre which can present myriads of possibilities to find expression on canvas as either scenes from plays or rehearsals, or playwrights and their muses, could have become a theme that would have shown novelty and added a touch of newness to the Colombo art exhibitions, scene which usually has landscapes as the much repeated fixture.

In my opinion, Colombo’s art exhibitions could venture to offer more imagination. Paintings that conceptualize aspects of human life and the arts themselves. I was conscious of that thought while going over the extensive collection of landscape piece in ‘Escape 2’. From what I could see Goonetilleke appears to have in her the means for bolder expression, a muscle for novelty. While I do sincerely applaud ‘Escape 2’, I for one do hope she ventures into subject matter that can draw her into newer challenges through the medium of painting.