Pursuing a passion is never easy, there will be many obstacles along the way. But enduring them and striving for victory is what keeps us focused. Our artist in conversation is one individual who combines 2 professions beautifully, an Artist and a Doctor; Shanaka Kulathunga. a figurative, realistic painter. We are thrilled to bring this interview today.
How long have you been painting?
I have been drawing since my small days, but I took painting and actually creating art about 20 years ago and have been a full time artist for 10 years now. I remember I could draw better than others when I was a child, so I believe I always had the talent, but life took different turns and I went on to study Biology and eventually became a Doctor, but Art has always been a passion waiting to be rekindled.
Who are your greatest influencers?
I remember my father took me for art lessons to Lionel Ranaweera's academy, and after my Ordinary level exams, I transferred to Royal college where I participated in exhibitions, which gave me a chance learn and provided exposure. In 2000, I painted the Mara Parajaya, which was highly commended by many, including Prof Sarath Surasena. Looking back, I think every individual along this journey influenced me to become who I am.
Did you have formal education in art and painting or art you self-taught?
I am a product of both influences, I studied art between the years of 2001-2015 at the Vibhavi academy of fine arts, and have been learning on my own as well.
Do you have a particular style? How did you become so passionate this particular style?
I create figurative paintings and realistic art. If you see my paintings, you will find that I have mostly created human figures. It is a difficult area to tap in to, us humans are complex and I like a challenge. It is also a good way to portray my skills.
What are your other passions other than art? How have these passions contributed for you to become the artist you are today?
To be honest, I have limited time, but whenever I can, I go for walks, it helps me renew my thinking and relax. I observe nature and people around me and take mental pictures which I may use to paint later on.
Could you walk us through your process? Percentage wise, how much time do you spend preparing for the painting and how much time on the actual painting itself? Is preparation an important part of your process?
My paintings are figurative, which means I need to have a model to paint. If I pick someone for a painting I first speak with them. I have a theme or a concept based on which I choose the model. Then I directly paint on canvas, in the mean time I also think of costumes and colors. Oil paintings generally take time and everything depends on the support of the model as well. I sometimes take photographs to help paint, but I always think a live model is the best as I can draw so much from their expressions.
Are you engaged in new artistic adventures? How is artistic exploration important to you as an artist and to your process? How do you then decide what to incorporate into your style and what to leave as pure fun?
Yes, it is very important for me as an artist. There is a lot more out there to learn. I read books and explore as much as I can as I am presently reading for my masters in fine arts. Learning is to change one's thinking pattern, and no matter how much information is available, if we don't change, there will not be any learning. There are plenty of resources out there to learn new techniques, to learn about mediums etc. When I find something new, I see how I can incorporate that into my work and create something unique. So yes, with this changing world, we need to learn and change ourselves too.
Was there a particular moment where you could tell that your skills had just crossed over into being an exceptionally good painter instead of a pretty good painter? What did you do to make that leap?
Well, I have been told by people that my art has improved over time. Also, I held my first exhibition is 2017 and my 2ndin 2021, between the years, I myself have seen a great improvement. I always welcome comments from others, it is important to improve myself. I take their criticisms constructively. It's been a lot of hard work and dedication which has helped me to become who I am today.
How do you push yourself? Do you set goals for yourself? And if so, what are those goals? Do you think setting goals is important for an artist in his/her artistic journey? If so, why?
As an artist I have goals, at present my aim is to take my art to an international level, which is why I have partnered with platforms such as Aartzy. I think all of us should have goals in our lives, they give us direction and keep us motivated. Goals are important to become an established artist. I must say, it is very important to carry out your work professionally and be committed.
How is your experience working with Aartzy? Do you think it's a useful platform for artists?
I have been with Aartzy for almost 2 years now. I must say that working with Janaka and the team has been a pleasure, they are easy going and very cooperative. As you know, at present we are facing a crisis in Sri Lanka. And my aim has been to take my work overseas, as mentioned previously. I hope for a fruitful partnership with Aartzy in the coming years.
You can view the entire collection of Shanaka Kulathunga here
Manesha Peiris (2022)