Senaka Senanayake: Artist Voice from Sri Lanka (1997)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 9 October 2010
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.

Senaka Senanayake

Born in 1951, Senaka Senanayake’s art career began early in life. Identified as a child prodigy, his first exhibition took place in 1959 and his art was launched on an international tour in 1963, which reached several parts of the globe. After finishing his BFA study at Yale University, he returned to Colombo. Since then, he has shown his work throughout the world, has works in numerous collections, and in 1995 celebrated his 100th art exhibition. He lives and works with his family in a suburban area of Colombo, filled with bright flowers and birds, which influence his work.

Senaka Senanayake: A lot of people ask me now, especially Sri Lankans, “You are in Sri Lanka. There is a war, why don’t you reflect that in your work?” Every single day you open up the newspaper, you see death and violence. I’ve actually done a couple of works approaching the war, but these are very personal things and I don’t want to do that all of the time. Life isn’t only death; it is only one aspect of life. Let’s enjoy the beauty of life. It’s kind of escapism in a way, but it’s the world I try to create.

I keep coming back to my own style, but art critics have a difficult time putting my art into a particular style, as such. There is no particular term they use.

The color, the shapes, the plants, and the animals relate to Sri Lanka—lots of greenery and flowers and birds—23 kinds actually stop by my garden. The whole idea is that I try to create movement and rhythm in my paintings and a concept of no beginning and no end—the continuous motion if life. I don’t only do paintings of flora and fauna, I also do a variety of work. From time to time my work changes, including approaching the environmental crisis. But I always come back to bright colors and I do mainly what I call happy paintings because I feel there is too much suffering and problems in the world.

For people who buy my work, they say it brings them a lot of happiness and strong vibrations. That’s why a lot of people like to have my paintings in their home. Unconsciously colors have an effect on us; the mood is set for the day but what you see on the wall. In my generation, there is hardly anybody who is making a living out of painting; I am quite lucky because I am able to support my family.