‘ For the Love of Trees ’

Saturday, 13 January 2018 00:58 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

An exhibition of paintings and drawings by Charmaine Mendis and Minha Mahushukeen

Charmaine Mendis and Minha Mahushukeen, together with their guest artist Karunasiri Wijesinghe, will hold their exhibition ‘For the Love of Trees’ from 19 to 22 January at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery daily from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

The paintings and drawings created by Charmaine in this 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 mundane present.”

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 these 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.”

Like a diamond, Charmaine is a many-faceted woman, one who has excelled in all her endeavours.

Two of Charmaine’s abiding hobbies/interests for as long as she can remember 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. I became very handy with a gun on our regular jungle forays and later on joined the Negombo Rifle Club to participate in competitive target shooting.”

Charmaine was Club Representative on the Board of the National Rifle Association, the governing body for the sport in Sri Lanka (and as usual the only woman).

“Along with these very unfeminine activities, 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.”

In 1954, Charmaine Vanderkoen Mendis was the first Sri Lankan to perform a Bharatha Natya Arangetram, or even a full length solo performance in that technique 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.

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 Pallihakkara, Kathak under Sesha and Kandyan Dancing under Gurus Heen Baba Dharmasiri, Nittawela M. Somadasa and Sri Jayana. 

When it came to art, Charmaine was always keen on sketching and drawing, mostly landscapes of sorts, which always had trees.

“They were always leafless as I was unsure just how to draw leaves. I never succeeded in conquering perspective, and was always 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.”

Minha traces her identity as an artist to two sources. The first a deep appreciation of nature’s wondrous forms and the second a passion for drawing. “From these two wellsprings has flowed a stream of inspiration that has guided my development from a young age.”

Minha is most appreciative of her mother’s encouragement of her early creative efforts. Minha is also fondly referred to as the ‘tree woman’ by her friends.  

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 really 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 so 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 always 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. Then came Svayam, which is a Sanskrit word with many meanings. I have used it in the context of ‘self’. On 19 January we have ‘For the Love of Trees’ and I hope that the many lovers of nature in Sri Lanka will visit our exhibition.

“Family, friends, and fellow artists, we wish to share with you our many moments of joy, for the creation of these pictures has entailed no hard work. ‘For the Love of Trees’ reflects ourselves, our work and is our statement. We present them with no apologies and no claims to fame.”