He walked the streets of Colombo to sell his batik designs. One fateful day he walked into a hotel to sell batik designs and was advised by a tourist to start painting as he showed the talent of a professional artist.

This was the start of Bernard Perera’s unique artworks that today have gained popularity among art lovers both local and foreign. Like many other artists Perera too loved to draw from a young age. While still a student at school, he first drew pictures for Vesak Pandols. After he left school he started his batik designs as he didn’t want to give up his love of drawing.

“For 15 years I drew batik designs and went to hotels in the country to sell them. I then met a foreigner who took a look at my designs and told me I should start drawing. So I started drawing on my own. I didn’t go to an art school. I didn’t learn from a teacher. I’m a self-taught artist who has mastered the art of painting through his interest in the subject,” Perera told Ceylon Today.

When he picks up the paint brush and keeps it on the canvas, thoughts come flowing into my mind. “Then I start drawing. I don’t draw a sketch first like some artists do. I just start painting with what comes to mind. I use acrylic and oil paints, but mostly oil on canvas. I started displaying and selling my paintings at hotels where I got a good response, mainly from foreigners. I held my first exhibition at BMICH in 1999 and another exhibition in 2013 at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery,” Perera said.

50 paintings in 24 hours

Perera has displayed his paintings at the Hotel Club Lanka, Culture Club, Tangalla Bay Hotel, Hotel Serendib, Koggala Beach Hotel Ltd, Hibiscus Beach Hotel, Unawatuna Beach Resort Ltd and Browns Beach Hotel Ltd among others. He was the Exhibition Secretary of the Ceylon Society of Arts in 2001 and has held a total of 11 Art exhibitions up to date. He also took up the challenge of drawing 50 paintings in 24 hours to enter the Guinness Book of World Records in November 2002. 

He completed the paintings before the 24 hours was over. But sadly due to a miscommunication the officials never came to judge his paintings and his hard work was in vain. Perera displayed his 50 paintings the following day at the Public Library which was attended by former Wildlife and Sustainable Development Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and veteran actor Ravindra Randeniya. 

“Painting is the first form of artistic expression in human society. I am committed to such a form of art and my talent does not come from a given school of art. This displays a freshness. An artist can understand the problems that occur due to erosion of spirituality in the human mind, far better than a writer, through such a powerful medium as painting,” Perera said.

“In such a topsy turvy age as this it is exceedingly difficult to overcome obstacles preserving human values. Though it is difficult, we have to overcome the wilderness and conquer the difficult terrain to reach a pleasant valley. To create a work of art both the pigment and the thought should be transferred simultaneously to canvas. It has to come through experience alone. Colour combinations occur automatically, it is a meditation,” Perera explained.

A humble talent

According to the Former Wildlife and Sustainable Development Minister, Bernard possesses an astonishing fluency in the welding of brush and palette to create canvases of breathtaking variety and compelling expressiveness. “His unprecedented achievement of completing a series of 50 paintings in less than 24 hours establishes him as a candidate for a place in the Guinness Records. Artist Bernard practises his art in a multiplicity of stylistic expressions. Some of his works can be very well categorised as abstract art.

“With all the talents that he can muster Bernard has maintained a low profile. Bernard deserves to be better known and better appreciated by those to whom art and culture matter. My earnest hope is that his works will find their way eventually into the mainstream art in Sri Lanka,” former Minister has said.   

An exceptional talent

“Perera is an artist of exceptional talent who has caught my attention and interest through his unique style and innovative approach to his creative work. Perera’s art reveals the unique variety of theme, style, and pigment that is truly reflective of his capacity as an artist. Perera is a solid example of sheer perseverance, confirming the notion that true artistic talent cannot be suppressed or kept down. I am personally aware of the hardships he underwent to obtain the exposure he deserves as an artist.

At one time he had to peddle his ware on the street in front of tourist hotels or on the beach in resort areas and now holds one-man exhibitions at prestigious venues such as the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery. It is a pity that such artistic endeavours of extraordinary merit do not get the recognition it deserves in this land of ours,” Randeniya has said.      

Commenting on his work the late Kalakeerthi Edwin Ariyadasa had once said that Perera produces work in a vast variety of styles and pigment combinations. “His endeavour is praiseworthy. His talent and exceptional gift are not properly recognised. Perera deserves patronage, understanding, and proper assessment,” Ariyadasa had said.

By Risidra Mendis