Kos Cos: Recreating reality through Art… | Sunday Observer

Kos Cos: Recreating reality through Art…

4 October, 2020

Kosala Gunasinghe a.k.a. Kos Cos is a multidisciplinary, experimental artist from Sri Lanka based in Hong Kong. His artistic practice is focused mostly on abstract painting and he observes his personal outlook, exploring themes of society, gender and the contradictions of traditional values by modern day liberated standards of the digital age.

Kos’s highly experimental work of art is a fair example to prove the basic fact in Art that aesthetic beauty alone does not make it a work of art but it should be a selective recreation of reality for the purpose of communicating some aspect of what it means to be human or how we perceive the world.

Abstract style

Understanding his work of art is easy: all it requires is an open mind and a big imagination. Swirling shapes, an array of colourful figurative patterns, or maybe pure energy and cosmic flow are common in his expression. As he explained it was a conscious decision he made to follow an experimental, abstract style in his art.

“I choose to express my creativity by creating a visual experience that is more free and unencumbered by the weight of objects,” Kos said.

Recalling his exciting journey of being an artist he considers himself lucky to have been born to his extremely open-minded parents. His slow-paced and simple childhood just like any other kid growing up in the suburbs of Colombo, during the late 70s to mid 80s, he believes was the time that laid the foundation for his artistic journey as an adult. “In my mid teens we moved to Mount Lavinia, a coastal town: that’s where I developed my relationship with the sea.

I still love the sea and my childhood obsession with the sea drew me to live close to the sea when I grew up! I had a group of great friends while growing up: playing cricket was our favourite pastime. I remember being more focused on my studies until high-school. I gradually lost interest in academia and got more focused on the usual ‘teenage activities’ at that time,” Kos recalled with joy.

Like any other middle-class parents, his parents too wanted him to be an engineer so they pushed him into related studies – and definitely not art. Therefore, Kos never had the privilege to study art formally, although later on, his father sent him to one of his friends - an artist - to learn political cartooning.

“However, my homefront was always a creative space and influenced me greatly. My mother used to make patchwork using textiles in her free time. All this was done at this table with lots of colourful textiles next to her sewing machine. I watched her combining colourful pieces of textiles to create fantastic wall hangings, etc - I feel this influenced me on colours. My father had his own outdoor advertising agency. I have vivid memories of this when I was 7-8 years old. I remember going to my father’s workshop after school to see artists working on outdoor advertising billboards. Here, I had the opportunity to see painters creating advertisements from babies to movie stars, milk powder to cigarettes on giant billboards. In addition, there were also many art material available to me, which I used to paint drawings and make crafts” Kos said.

Sadly, that was the end of the era of hand-painted outdoor billboards and everything went digital thereafter. Kos believes he was very fortunate to have that exposure to watch and learn, as looking back, those outdoor billboards were a great influence on his early portrait works.

Although Kos wasn’t planning on moving to Hong-Kong, as he says, it was an opportunity that came out of the blue. One day he received a call from one of his friends, who used to work at the same advertising agency with him in Sri Lanka, who offered him a job opportunity in Hong Kong. Although initially he was planning only for two years, apparently he has been living there for 21 years now.

“When I came here, Hong Kong was at the peak of advertising, with agencies producing world renowned, award-winning creative Ads. It was also much ahead in Multimedia and Web; which was a new learning area for me with new software and a new way of thinking to work with this new media.

Working with top creative directors inspired me to think out of the box. Having to learn new tools and also think differently to fit new media was a challenge for me initially,” Kos said.

At the time Kos moved to HK, it was Asia’s top Art Hub with many international and local galleries, artists and exhibitions. There was a lot of exposure for a young artist and it greatly influenced his art-works lately. From landscape to architecture Kos experienced a big change in scenery compared to Colombo/Sri Lanka.

“It was a great opportunity to learn, to do experiments and grow as a person,” he said.

For Kos moving from Sri Lanka to Hong Kong was like entering a futuristic city with super tall glass and concrete buildings, massive colourful neon signs and infinite energy, which he felt was an amazing experience. “It was definitely sensory overload! Even the food was an alien experience because of the bland taste served with two sticks,” Kos laughed.

However, with the massive expansion of digital and social media, Kos feels it is the end of ‘creativity’ of the advertising industry. In fact, he sensed this change many years before. It was at that time that he decided to return to his canvas to express himself without boundaries. “Eight years ago, I was fortunate to have my work recognised by a gallery in Hong Kong. After that I started to show my work regularly in galleries across Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. “In 2019, I finally decided to fully focus on Art as my career and went to open another studio in Belgium with my creative partner,” he said.

Liberty to experiment

Kos did not have formal education in art. Even though art was one of the subjects he liked the most when he was young, it was never presented to him potentially as a serious career. He studied cartooning under one of the top Cartoonists at that time - S.C. Opatha who was a friend of Kos’s father. Speaking about the advantages of being a self-taught artist, Kos says, “I feel there are both advantages and disadvantages of being a self taught artist. Well, formal education could have saved me from many technical mistakes that took many years for me to realise in the process and on the other hand, self-learning process is a blessing for an artist as you are not taught what not to do and therefore you have the liberty to experiment various styles and methods until you discover what works best for you. After all the trials and errors, the whole process becomes unique.”

Looking closely at Kos’s artworks it is evident that he follows quite a dominant yet free style in most of his work. He has been experimenting different styles for the past many years and now has come to his judgemental phase of his dominant, bold and free style which represents him closely.

Kos has been working in different mediums and he says all of these mediums have its own unique advantages while oil paint is his main medium. “I love working with oil paint because of its flexibility, vibrancy and durability and also the smell makes me high when I’m working, but I still start with charcoal to sketch on the canvas or sometimes acrylics as a base colour,” he said.

Walking us through his process of work, Kos said he spends 70 percent of time preparing for painting and investing time in finding an inspiration or a subject to paint. Once he found his subject he would spend a fairly decent time to research and study. After he gathers enough information on his subject, he confidently starts sketching and then to the canvas. “Working on canvas is the easiest part for me. So yes, for all of my works, the preparation part is crucial,” he said.

At the time of his creative process, Kos doesn’t like to block or limit himself by thinking of a specific audience or a market. For him painting is his freedom of expression without any boundaries. “Therefore, I love to keep my freedom of creativity throughout the process,” he said.

Finally, Kos said his favourite painters and their work are: Two Dancers Resting by Edgar Degas, Havy Red by Wassily Kandinsky,

The Painter’s Music, The Musician’s Art by Kenneth Noland, Patrick in Italy By Howard Hodgkin and Night and day By Howard Hodgkin are his most admired works of all time.