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Old 12-07-17, 02:00 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Michael Anthonisz, George Keyt Foundation Chairperso

Paint your palette

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - 01:00

Sachitra Mahendra

“Keyt I think is the living nucleus of a great painter. In all his works, there is the moderation of maturity. … [His] figures take on a strange expressive grandeur, and radiate an aura of intensely profound feeling.”

- Pablo Neruda

He was born at the turn of a bygone century, 1901. Despite his Indo-Dutch origins, George Keyt did not influence the painting of this country. He framed the industry. He was an instrumental figure behind the picturesque revolution of this country’s Buddhist and Hindu iconography. The circumambulatory shrine room of the Gautami Vihara, Borella, built in the 1940s, stands regally even to this day as a symbol of the Keyt legacy.

That legacy was not to die down. A Foundation was established in memory of the art supremo. The George Keyt Foundation has shouldered several exhibitions to boost the morale of the upcoming local painters. The exhibition will be at the JDA Perera Gallery 1 and 2, University of Visual Arts and Performing Arts from today to July 16. Titled as Nawa Kalakaruwo, the exhibition offers space to emerging young artists.

The Daily News meets Michael Anthonisz, who succeeded Cedric de Silva as George Keyt Foundation Chairperson.

“We began this exhibition as Young Contemporaries. Following a break for some time, we revitalised the concept with Kala Pola exhibition. This is the ideal platform especially for the first-time artists,” Anthonisz explains.

The exhibition seems to stave off the financial hunger which most artists are now experiencing. Although most artists with degrees pertaining to the subject would apparently opt away from the painting itself to other lucrative careers. Everybody knows why: there is hardly any market or promotion for art.

But that phenomenon is going to be well and truly over thanks to the George Keyt Foundation involvement. Sri Lanka’s art is 90 percent worth today, says Anthonisz, because the artists have various platforms to showcase their talents. Without a proper promotion, the artists will struggle to find feet. Artists are now on the rise. Sri Lanka too should have a huge market for arts like in India.

In parallel with the artists, the connoisseurs also keep on growing.

But the path before the young artists is not smooth. Many stumbling blocks stand in their way before they manage to reach the destination.

“It is not easy to book a hall. They are expensive. Then the artists need a sponsor. That’s why the Goerge Keyt Foundation enters the scene. Now there are other sponsors such as Barefoot and Saskia Gallery who sponsor artists. They are the offshoot of the Keyt Foundation.”

The exhibition offers the young artists a chance to come out of their shells and showcase the work. And to be recognised, which is the most important. As the Foundation has been engaged in this project for years, the industry has now produced a clan of senior artists too.

“The exposure matters. Because this is a group work, the artists have an opportunity to meet each other. Being at the JDA Perera Gallery, the university students will have an opportunity to meet the non-university artists as well as vice versa.”

The George Keyt Foundation, on the other hand, is privileged with a good audience response. As the exhibition lasts a week, over which artists will find ample time and room for networking.

Nawa Kalakaruwo is an extension of Kala Pola organised by the same Foundation. Kala Pola artists also take part in this week’s exhibition.

The base of Sri Lankan art is no longer what it used to be. Only a few artists have earned repute. They manage to go and show around thanks to their repute. The Keyt Foundation’s attempt is to expand the artistic repute at home as well as abroad.

New artists should come to the fore following the footsteps of George Keyt, Lionel Wendt and other artists of repute. Lionel Wendt was another influential figure in the art industry following his study in England. He followed the western art but syringed them with a Sri Lankan flavour. Wendt, like Keyt, is among the few Sri Lankan who still enjoy the global repute.

The Nawa Kalakaruwo is symbolic of a portrait of George Keyt as a young man (may James Joyce forgive us) coordinated by the Foundation named after the iconic artist of this country.

George Keyt didn’t start painting until he was 26, but he quickly went on to become an international giant of Modern art and arguably Sri Lanka’s most celebrated 20th Century artist. His unique visual idiom combines European Modernist innovations with the ancient South Asian fresco techniques found at Ajanta and Sigiriya. Desipite his clear admiration for cubist and fauvist principles, his subject matter was almost always rooted in local tradition, depicting dancers, shepherdesses and gods, often drawn from Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

His subjects’ enlarged, almond-shaped eyes are, perhaps, his most consistent stylistic signature, along with an emphasis on bold, crisp lines and a prolonged romance with cubist perspective (his work has been exhibited alongside Picasso and Braque in galleries around the world). His earliest work was distinctly Gauginesque—sumptuous pastorals and figure studies free from overt perspectival abstraction, populated by luxuriant nudes and semi-nudes swaddled in robes, limbs graceful and provocatively intertwined. By the early 1930s, the cubism that would forever alter the character of his paintings began to emerge in his work.

Still, Keyt perpetually re-invented his craft, adopting and discarding countless subtle variations in style across seven decades. His famous black-and-white line drawings depicting Sri Krishna and his lover have been reprinted millions of times since he made them in 1947. Keyt was Sinhalese-Dutch by birth and lived in his native Sri Lanka almost his entire life. He wrote poetry in English and converted to Buddhism as a young man. In 1978, he lived in London for six weeks where, according to his obituary in The Independent, he “visited many museums and art galleries, went to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare, called at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and made a pilgrimage to Gadds Hill to see Charles Dickens’s house.” He married three times and died in Colombo at the age of 92.

- www.christies.com
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