By D.C. Ranatunga
To be among the faces (‘heads’ in the sculptor’s terms) of over a hundred (110 to be exact) well-known personalities mainly in the field of arts in Sri Lanka is indeed a privilege. They are all on a long wall at the creator’s studio at Dummalasuriya, Wennapppuwa on the Colombo-Chilaw road. He is Sri Lanka’s top sculptor Sarath Chandrajeewa. The wall exhibits the ‘Hundred Impressions on Bronze’ he organised in the early 1990s at the Art Gallery.
As to how I was picked to be among the distinguished personalities I still can’t explain. I had spent my whole working life in the private sector and did not fit into the galaxy of the artistes that Sarath C. had picked.
I remember somewhere in 1991 or so, Harold Peiris, the livewire in the Contemporary Art and Craft Association of Sri Lanka, calling me one morning and wanting me to come over to a place in Kalubowila for a sitting. As I went I met Father Ernest Porutota there, whose head was being done by Sarath. I was to be the next. ‘Why?’ I asked Harold. He told me I had contributed much to promote the arts through the columns I wrote in the ‘Sunday Observer’ during the Denzil Peiris days in the late 1960s. (I left Lake House in 1969 to join Lever Brothers). He was keen to have my head done.
Recently we were at Dummalasuriya to see how Sarath operates. In a sprawling garden off the main highway, he has set up his studio with all the paraphernalia needed for his art. It was a Saturday afternoon and Sarath wasn’t that busy. I had a prior appointment anyway.
He was keen that he showed us the Portrait Wall first. It is indeed a marvellous sight. Very impressive. Something I had not seen anywhere. We couldn’t miss the duos Lester and Sumitra Peiris, Chitrasena and Vajira, Henry and Manel Jayasena.
We started and identifying the ‘gathering’. Whenever I asked ‘where is so and so?’ Sarath would find him or her. Among the female artistes including Iranganie Serasinghe, Nanda Malini and a host of others, it was
nice to see Chitra Malalasekera – one-time renowned pianist.
Sarath posed with me for a photograph with my ‘head’ in the middle and we moved away to see his real operation. He took us round explaining how calm and quiet the whole place is, making it an ideal location for him to work in peace. In fact, he spends most nights there and the two huge watchdogs keep vigil throughout.
He took us to his simple but neatly done office and showed us his latest creation on the computer – ‘Sri Lankan countryside’ at the new High Commission in Canberra, Australia. The terracotta mural is 20 feet long and its height is 19 feet. According to Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, this handcrafted mural painted with earth colours on display is possible the only such creation in a Sri Lankan mission abroad.
Sarath has also done two big murals at the Mattala International Airport. The Departure Lounge displays a 53ftx9 ft mural on the theme ‘Down South,’ depicting low country dances, places of worship and Yala and Kumana parks. In the arrival lounge is a 32ftx9ft mural on the theme ‘Ravana and his flying object’.
All three have been designed by Professor Albert Dharmasiri, with Sarath doing the modelling, firing and fixing.
Journey spanning four decades
We then sat down for a chat and he related interesting tales in his long journey over a span of four decades. While paying a glowing tribute to his guru, Master Sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe, he recollected how after a demonstration on modelling a portrait sculpture by the famous Russian sculptor Professor Lev Kerbel (he sculpted the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike statue) on a visit to the Institute of Aesthetic Studies in 1976, he changed his subject stream from painting to sculpture.
“It is indeed destiny that 18 years later I got the opportunity of doing my Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture in Russia under his guidance,” he said. He got his PhD from the State Arts Institute in Moscow in 1999.
He has had many ups and downs in his life until he became a dedicated
and committed sculptor and academic. He has settled down to an academic life and is presently Dean of the Faculty of Visual Arts in the University of Visual and Performing Arts. He has held several exhibitions displaying his skills as a multi-faceted artist as a sculptor, bronze caster, potter and painter.
Wirth more and more youngsters and adults wanting to learn to sculpt, he conducts classes at Sapumal Foundation on selected days.
As we finished our chat, he insisted that he should do my head once again – after a dozen years. I agreed. It was fascinating to see how his hands move swiftly and within three hours (with a break in between) my head was ready to be ‘fired’!
Studio pic by Qadir Saheed