The Artist in Reggie
By Chandana Ranaweera
When speaking about advertising in Sri Lanka, the name Reggie Candappa is one that pops up pretty much everywhere. Regarded as the Father of Advertising in Sri Lanka, Reggie not only introduced advertising to Sri Lanka but developed, thrived in, and opened up new dimensions in Sri Lankan advertising.
Reggie was the founder of Sri Lanka’s biggest advertising company, Grant McCann Erickson. From day one, his company saw constant success, not because he was lucky but thanks to Reggie’s creativity, innovative instincts and artistic talent. In fact, luck is something that Reggie didn’t count too much on from the early days of his life.
Reggie’s mother passed away in 1919, when he was just a few months old and his father blamed her death on Reggie on the account of ‘it said so in Reggie’s horoscope’. Reggie married the love of his life Therese Senadheera whose father was a Gate Mudaliyar. He opposed the affair since the beginning and tried his best to marry off Therese to someone else.
However, the couple eloped and got married but the ill-treatments didn’t stop there. Despite Reggie’s success his father-in-law continued to be unimpressed with him. Reggie and Therese had two daughters. Birthdays of all four of them were strangely connected to the number nine, a numeric which in many cultures deems to be ‘unlucky’.
Since the early ages Reggie learnt to not depend on luck but on hard work and dedication. Reggie kicked off his career as a freelance artist and illustrator in Eheliyagoda and it didn’t take that much time for him to become a prolific artist and an illustrator. After World War II, Reggie decided to set up his own office and soon he had many artists working under him. He was even selected by the British administration to create a crest for the Royal Air Force.
Realising the need of a steady job soon after his marriage, Reggie joined Lake House in 1946 and continued to work there for 12 years. He learnt a great deal during the years he spent at the publication, in his own words, “It was a great opening for me. I was trained in printing, print production, wrote articles, drew political cartoons, and illustrated the Sunday Observer. I became famous and ended up with four desks in the advertising department, arts department, engraving department and lithographic department.”
In 1957 Reggie received a scholarship to work and learn the latest technologies in advertising and design in United States which he made use of to the fullest. He was offered a job with Grant Advertising which he accepted while working his scholarship at Grant offices in Hollywood and Chicago.
His work ethic and efficiency impressed the bosses so much that he was offered the job of setting up a new Grant branch in Colombo. It didn’t take much time for him to build up the business back in his home country. He later bought the advertising office in Colombo and started running it as an independent advertising agency under the name Grant McCann Erickson. And the rest is history.
Reggie wore many hats. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, an advertiser, a businessman, a photographer, a journalist, an illustrator and above all, he was a talented artist. His first exposure as an artist was in the 1944 exhibition titled, ‘Ceylon War Exhibition’. He later collaborated with artists of the Colombo ’43 Group and further polished his talents. In 1995 in celebration of his company’s 37th anniversary Reggie held a solo exhibition at Lionel Wendt Art Gallery.
Titled, ‘Impressions of Sri Lanka 3’, the exhibition contained a number of Reggie’s paintings which to a keen eye gave away the Van Gogh and Gauguin influences within Reggie. Most of his paintings were of landscapes. Although his paintings don’t appear to be too intricate and rather simplistic and soothing at first glance, he managed to capture even the tiniest details of Sri Lankan village life in his paintings. Pictured here are some of Reggie’s paintings from his 1995 Exhibition at the Lionel Wendt.
The painting titled, ‘Lotus Pond’ depicts a few lotus flowers bloomed in a pond and a few lotus leaves floating over the water. Simplistic enough but the more you look at it the more detailed the painting becomes.
His painting, ‘Sunset at Kandalama’ utilises combinations of white, yellow, and pink in abundance to create a fascinating sunset on canvas. His painting, ‘Bargain Hunting’ has captured the typical rural village life in its most minute detail. Although it appears to be blurred at first, the more you observe the painting more details you will find, much to your astonishment. The painting,
‘Ancient Mariner’ is a fine example of how well the photographer and the painter in Reggie have worked in tandem. The set is a beach where fishing is happening, evident by the large fishing nets and busy fishermen in the background but the foreground of the painting is dominated by the ancient mariner who looks directly into you. The expressions, colour balancing, depicting of light and shadow, and intentional blurred out background to give prominence to the old man in the painting is just like how a photographer adjusts the focal point of his camera lens.
His excellent colour combination ability is apparent in his creation, ‘Irrigated Fields’. He had used white, cobalt blue, green, and burnt sienna brown to create the natural beauty of a paddy field and nearby mountains. His oil painting, ‘Upcountry Scene’ has been selected by HelpAge Sri Lanka to be printed in a greeting card, a small yet significant victory in the artist Reggie’s life. The painting, ‘Relics of Past Glory’ is a comparatively smaller one but the natural beauty and the three monks shown in the painting possess the ability to calm the viewer.
For the service he had rendered to the field, he was awarded the honorary titles, ‘Deshabandu’ and ‘Kala Kirthi’. He succumbed to a cardiac arrest in 2003 but the legacy he has left behind in multiple fields will live on for generations to come.
(Translated by SH)