In the lead up to this issue there were many a discussion about who should be listed as a startup, an illustrator, a freestyler and of course, an artist. Indeed every person featured in the list of creatives is an artist; creating as a career, whether it be for the next soap commercial or conceptualising a brand, the huge element of creativity required comes from the mind of an artist. What I shall attempt to define herein is how we distinguish between graphic design, illustration and fine art, and how we draw the line on who we feel we can place with our painters and sculptors as contemporary Sri Lankan art.
In this issue the graphic designers and advertising firms present the world of graphic design that exists today in Sri Lanka today. All too often we have a good giggle at the absurd advertisements that make their way onto billboards and newspapers throughout the island. I feel it would be fair, though controversial, to say that ten percent of these ads really stand out but I will leave the quality of advertising to an expert. In fact, and I am sure the advertising industry will agree, it is often the client that restricts the creative abilities of these agencies. When given the opportunity to really flaunt their creative divisions in exhibitions, projects or issues such as this month’s LT publication, the organisations are excited to really give their designers the freedom they yearn for. So why are we not classifying them as artists? No doubt they may be sketching and creating to their hearts content in their free time but the majority of their portfolios consists of digital work designed for the marketing of a company, campaign, etc. Graphic designing while creative does not fall under the category of fine art simply because the concept is presented to the designer and this is the framework under which they are restricted. While preliminary sketches and drafts are a part of their process, the final work takes place on computer programs and ends there. The message is direct and dictated.
Moving on to illustrators. This was an interesting topic in the creation of this issue. When provided with a list of people whose work was to be mentioned under ‘freestylers’ there were some whose work could be referred to as illustrative and others who we removed from the list. I was asked to define what makes an artist an illustrator and what qualifies them to enter the contemporary art scene. An obvious answer would be the simple fact that the work speaks for itself and directly communicates a message. Often they present themselves as cartoons, digital representations of stories and the like, that need little imagination to decipher or interpret. In no way are these works less creatively expressive or skilful. The simple fact that they are direct and communicate in a specific story or emotion distinguishes the works from what is today classified as contemporary art; which brings me to my area of expertise.
We are pleased have some fantastic artists working with us. Many of them have an education in graphic design, some of them work as graphic designers alongside working as an artist and others use graphic design in their creative process. What makes them different is that the creative element of what they are communicating conceptually can be interpreted by the viewer in various ways. Their concept is not as direct, it is not as obvious and the images that appear can be complex while at the same time possess a greater freedom of expression. Famous international artists such as Takashi Murakami are known to use graphic design in their process to the point that the images are digitally created by the artist and finished by hand in a factory that consists of trained artists working tirelessly on a piece. The work is finished with perfect detail, to replicate the image provided to them. The image provided however is created by Murakami containing the characters conceptualised by the artist himself. There is an element that exists in the process of the creation of the final work, using the hand to create at any which point, which adds to its value as a unique piece of art. Simply because an artist uses graphic design at some point in their creative process does not classify the work as graphic design. Graphic design becomes, in this situation, merely one of the many programs used in creating the final work. Mika Tennekoon’s printed canvases are first created by hand, then scanned, worked on digitally and finally printed using a machine. There is nothing ‘standard’ about the final artwork, the signature of the artist is strongly present. There is a copyright that belongs to the artist and they are produced in limited edition. Tennekoon however, along with Samuel Niruban, Ruwan Prasanna, Jagath Ravindra and many many more local and international artists have however once been or are still an active part of the graphic design industry in Sri Lanka and are still outstanding contemporary artists.
I hope this briefly defines the works presented to you in this issue. They present and give a much deserved platform to graphic designers and illustrators working in Sri Lanka today. It has been a pleasant surprise to have an insight into this world. The work that these creative people presented made me go as far as question the future of Sri Lankan contemporary art. It seems there is a new wave of artists who are emerging using digital processes in their work, something which happened very little ten years ago. And so, this ARTicle will feature no images, as homage to creativity that already is featured herein. I believe these people deserve a round of applause for walking the line and keeping Sri Lankan creativity alive!