Rahju: Artist Voice from Sri Lanka (1997)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This interview was previously published in Asian Art News, 7(3), 57-65 (1997) as part of a large feature on contemporary art in Sri Lanka.


Born in 1963, Rahju has always painted and drawn since being a child. He studied in Oslo, Norway, and returned to Sri Lanka in 1982. Now, he lives and paints near Kandy. He "avoids prestigious art exhibitions and awards." In addition to painting, he enjoys meditation and playing music.

Rahju: To remain free of objectives is the only real objective I have. I wouldn’t describe myself as "serious" either, which is a major stumbling block to creativity. Further, I wouldn’t say that I was happy (or unhappy) with my formal education; education exists only as a concept. The only two things I learnt from being in Oslo, I learned on my own; so-called education is a misnomer and a camouflage for a conditioning process of falsity.

I work in a non-linear fashion. Several things go on at the same time, and I switch back and forth. The only thing I can say is "developing" is the sense of getting closer and closer to doing what I really want to do at that moment. It’s less and less painting according to mind-decisions, and more and more painting out of a "blind" need.

To face an empty canvas, and fill it, and find that it is still empty is success to me. Anything my mind cooks up is boring to me. That doesn’t mean I paint minimalistic or non-figurative, but just anything that comes when I’m empty and open, which is why meditation is important to me. You could say a meditative mode is a kind of objective. So a line of my work was imagery (internal) from the Hindu/Buddhist tradition, though it is the same vibe I try to induce in a painting of, say, something from nature (external). The main thing is emptiness. I prefer paintings that are open windows—so the viewer can immerse himself. I can’t stick paintings that jump out and impose themselves on the viewer. I’m thinking of all that noisy, expressionist mind stuff that the whole of Western art has got so bogged down with—where all you can see is the artist and his ideas. My thing is the thing as "it is—in itself."

For materials, I enjoy the fact that we’ve got to work with "Third World" tools, since so little art material is available to us here. I use broad household brushes, several shaving brushes, rollers, even shoe polish. I despise the whole "fine arts materials" business. That’s good for hobby painters, who are the only ones who can afford them.

For me, any subject will do. What really matters to me is whether I really mean it at that moment. Not from my mind, but from my being: an existential need. Very, very few people have seen all of my different paintings, and I tend to avoid exhibiting (I’m a hermit really). Because of this reason, I don’t think anyone really understands my work fully. This, of course, does not bother me at all.