Whenever the Inspiration Strikes...
By Risidra Mendis
He paints without restriction and has an unusual flair of creativity and talent. The rural life in his village, the ancient paintings that adorn the walls of the village temple, and his love for nature and the environment is what inspire him to pick up a paint brush and start painting. Over the years painting has grown to be a part of his life.
Having exhibited his paintings in many countries around the world he continues to do what he likes doing best - picking up a paint brush and drawing whenever the inspiration strikes. It was in 1968 that S.H. Sarath started his painting career. There is no limit to the thoughts and ideas of Sarath that flow through his brush onto a canvas. His paintings are unique because they all have a story to tell.
After completing a five-year course Sarath received his Diploma from the Government College of Fine Arts in 1973. He held his first solo exhibition in 1974 at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery Colombo and has held more than twenty five solo exhibitions at the same venue.
His first solo exhibition overseas was held in 1979 at the Presidents Hotel Bangkok followed by many other exhibitions in different countries. In 1993 Sarath designed the Sri Lanka Western Provincial Council Flag which is still in use.
“I paint human figures sceneries, nature, line drawings, and animals. The subjects on every one of my paintings differ from one another and every painting I complete is an original one. Whatever I feel at the time, I paint. My paintings give out special messages. They are not just figures and colours. Some art lovers don’t understand my works of art. Others don’t like what I paint because they are based on controversial issues,” Sarath reveals.
This year, Sri Lankan artistes were given the opportunity to display their paintings in Bangladesh at an exhibition organised by the Society for Promotion of Bangladesh Art (SPBA) titled, ‘Mujib Shotoborsho’ to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“Renowned Sri Lankans and Bangladeshi artists displayed their paintings at the exhibition. Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Riaz Hamidullah helped us to attend this event. Sarath Gamini - a businessman in Bangladesh sponsored us and made sure we were treated well. The Bangladesh Cultural Minister was the Guest of Honour and the Foreign Minister was the Chief Guest at the exhibition,” Sarath recalls.
He says today there is a great demand for local paintings overseas and people must be taught to appreciate the beauty of paintings. Sarath has travelled to many countries such as India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Japan, Yugoslavia, Korea, Russia and Germany among many others where he has exhibited his paintings.
In his recent exhibition, Sarath has displayed eight paintings one of which was a painting of the tree God (Ruk Deviyo). In the painting the god is seen wearing a mask and using an inhaler possibly because of the lack of oxygen in the environment. Through this painting, Sarath tries to shed some light on the issue of deforestation. Another painting depicts a person sitting on a toilet which when flushed causes contamination of water and environment pollution. A broader and in-depth reading of the painting could be made along the lines of how detrimental human-induced pollution is to the environment or the painting could simply mean that the polluting nature is a crappy thing to do.
Sarath received ‘Kala Soori’ National Honours for Arts, awarded by the President of Sri Lanka, in 2017. In 2018, he had an exhibition of paintings and drawings to mark 50 years in the field. The exhibition titled, ‘SH Sarath Retrospective 1968-88’ was sponsored and held at the British Council Colombo to mark 20 years in his profession. In 2019, the Film Corporation awarded him with a Certificate of Honour for his contribution to the Sri Lankan cinema as an Art Director.
He was the Vice President of the Ceylon Society of Arts from 1982-83 and thereafter served as the member of the Arts Panel of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs for 25 years. Presently he serves as a visiting lecturer to the University of the Visual and Performing Arts Sri Lanka.