LT February 2015 | The Interview Series: Saskia Fernando Hammoud in Conversation with Sanjeewa Kumara

Sanjeewa Kumara was nominated for the Sovereign Asian Art Foundation Prize 2014-2015 and will be amongst the 30 finalists to exhibit his work in Hong Kong this year. Kumara now teaches art at university level and presents exhibitions of his paintings in Sri Lanka and overseas. He is considered to be one of the leading most sought after painters in the local Sri Lankan contemporary scene.

FROM THE VERY BEGINNING YOU HAVE FOCUSED ON PAINTING AS A MEDIUM, WHY IS THAT ?

Painting is considered to be a very traditional medium but for me painting has a history. Painting goes back to the time of cavemen, the materials were different then but the contact between the medium and expression hasn’t changed over time. The technique hasn’t changed.

HAVE YOU EVER WORKED ON SCULPTURE ?

Sometimes I like to change the form of my paintings, working on different shapes of canvases. I try to see how it looks three dimensionally. But I still work with painting.

DO YOU DRAW ?

I used to work on preliminary drawings but now after painting for 25 years I no longer draw my images before painting. I work on the motifs I find in my own painting by rearranging them again and again.

YOU OFTEN REFER TO YOUR PAINTING AS PICTURES, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE FOR YOU ?

The difference is that painting is primarily the canvas and the technique differs from artist to artist. This is the definition of painting. A picture is different; the picture speaks to the eye. Painting is a more technical action that is related to a subject and it requires an explanation. The picture has a direct relationship with the viewer that anybody can understand. The pictures I draw speak to the subconscious. The language of my painting is created by the subconscious of the viewer.

WHEN YOU STARTED PAINTING, WHERE DID THE FIGURES SUCH AS ‘UNCANNY PERSONALITY’ YOU BEGAN TO DRAW COME FROM? WHY ARE YOU DRAWN TO CREATE THESE IMAGINARY, PRIMITIVE FORMS ?

There are many surrealistic artists who have done this. I don’t see myself in the modern world. I identify myself more with artists from the Romantic Era and the pre-Raphaelites. The characters themselves are influenced by various different images I see of natural deep sea life or microsopic cells.

FOLLOWING YOUR STUDIES IN THE NETHERLANDS THERE WAS A CLEAR CONNECTION BETWEEN WEST AND EAST THAT APPEARED IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WAS THE CHANGE THAT HAPPENED TO YOUR WORK THROUGH THIS EXPERIENCE ?

The question I had was very much in relation to identifying myself in both of these worlds. This is how these hybrid paintings appeared. Even writing my name was written different after Sri Lanka was colonized by the Dutch. I have two different backgrounds, one that connected with Sinhalese culture and another in Sri Lanka as a colony. At that time I did some experimental work. I tried to find a new way of discovering myself.

Featured Image – SANJEEWA KUMARA, 2014, Seeing Stars. Oil on canvas, 150x110cm

Original Post can be seen in LT Magazine February 2015

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