In-Between II, a reflection of art itself | Sunday Observer

In-Between II, a reflection of art itself

1 August, 2021

Kingsley Gunatillake is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice is largely focused on abstract compositions on canvas and paper. His process involves the use of wooden blocks in the instinctive manipulation of paint with calligraphic movements. His most recent works, presented in his latest exhibition titled ‘In-Between II’ are a continuation of a series the artist began in 2019.

In the new works, the artist extends this narrative by allowing his subconscious to take control of the materials, further hindering his command by placing his work on the floor rather than on an easel.

Kingsley Gunatillake born and bred in Kandy, his work in art involves painting, drawing and installation.

He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Fine Arts University of Colombo in 1979 and obtained a Diploma in Environmental Education from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in 1994. He has had several solo exhibitions in Sri Lanka, the UK, the Philippines, Ireland, Scotland, India and Japan.

The Sunday Observer interviewed the artist about his latest collection ‘In-Between II’ and his life being an artist.

Q. ‘In-Between II’ is a continuation of a series that you started in 2019. What made you continue this series?

A. The concept of ‘in-between’ began to take root in my mind in 2014. But the conflict with those contradictory shapes brought it to the canvas in 2013. In 2019 ‘In-between ll’ reappeared in my mind. What is this diptych composition? A wide range of models were produced, positive and negative, open and closed, with vital energy.

Sometimes they look to me like two shapes magnified by a microscope. This dual shape turned into a one-space, maybe it feels like chanting a beautiful mantra. I'm always colliding in two shapes. The action draws me to the end of the product. I often wonder if this is just the beginning and it motivates me to explore the minimal situation further.

I sometimes feel that these are still at the research stage and more successful works are yet to be produced in this series and I may produce them in future.

Therefore, I do not see an end for this series, which means that there will be more works in between.

Q. Talking about the process of the work, the catalogue stated that it involved the use of wooden blocks in the instinctive manipulation of paint with calligraphic movements. How did you first begin to develop this style?

A. Any painting in this series, at a glance, may look like the face of a wood block. But it's not really a block. It's a product made of rubber-Fiji and other such elements. I gave up the brush and the easel sometime ago. I put the canvas on the floor and I put pigment on it and moved different objects on it and created the biggest shapes and touched it. I used a technique that I have tried. It is very simple.

Q. Browsing through the history of art it is evident that Jackson Pollock was one of the pioneers who famously took a spontaneous approach to painting. Going through your process it is clear that you too are trying out a similar kind of spontaneous, random process. Isn’t that so?

A. Yes, if one talks about my technique in particular, it is the result of research by many artists around the world such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rosenberg and Garand Richard, Rivani – all these artists use this technique. All I did was dominate the relevant object and I used the elements of the desperate attempt at Japanese calligraphy. I have seen the work of Japanese artists such as Kenji Nakamura several times and those were special experiences for me.

I'm not sure if there's an inspirational face from Jackson Pollock in abstract art.

It was a powerful example to me of how randomness turned into a craft. Artist H.A. Karunaratne was one such spontaneously active artist who read the initials.

Q. The catalogue explanation of ‘In-Between II’ refers to your new body of work as “a celebration of gestural abstraction, not intended to suit an overarching narrative and poised to be a reflection of art itself”. How do you respond to that assessment?

A. At present I cannot decide whether the so-called abstraction of my work really fits, because I make it for an image and it is the opposite of abstraction.

Jackson Pollock once said, “It doesn't matter how the paint is put on as long as something is said.” So I hope I have communicated what I wanted to through my art.

Q. When walking through the gallery browsing the works of ‘In-Between II’ it conveyed to me that they emerged out of some kind of negotiation, especially the colour palette. What feelings of conflict or cooperation did you experience when creating them?

A. I deliberately try to associate Asian body colour. I think Asian body colour is more erotically pleasing and it has become a spontaneous action with the assignment of La Pallet and the gradient canvas that I advocated for my expression. It works like a charm. I do not control the action. I let it happen. I'm so excited. I think you can do this too. It's not so complicated. All you need is concentration and discipline. For that, taking days in front of the canvas and attacking at once.

Q. Do you have an end customer in mind at the time you create?

A. I do not aim at a customer during or after my creating process. I think I do not recognise that.

Q. Could you offer some specific examples of the great master painters of the past?

A. I was inspired by the work of artist Franz Kline ( 1910- 1962). His works are not sleek. He raps his patient with ruff and powerful brush strokes. I am bound by the strength and sustainability of Kline’s painting. Kline has said, “I paint not the things I see but feelings they arouse in me.”

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991). I have never seen an artist who gives so much strength to a painting. It confirms that every brush stroke is decisive. He is able to shake the outer space with a large black spot or two or three spots. It may be that the deep necessity of art is the examination of individuals and societies' self-deception.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) – Silence is so accurate. Mark's paintings are so deafening and the emotional nature of the painting are so strong that I try to find my visual discipline by watching it often. “If you are moved by colour relationships you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions, tragedy, ecstasy and doom” - Mark Rothko.

Cy Twombly (1928-2011). He was freer than a small child. That freedom he had strengthens my self-confidence. It is an interesting expression that he brings out - his tastes and connoisseurs and his dislikes to his art.

“I hate roses. Don't you. It's alright if you can hide them in a cutting garden but I think a Rose Garden is the height of irk” - Cy Twombly.

Q. What are your future goals and ambitions as an artist?

A. I have two goals, one is to make my studio a place to visit for viewers and to provide space for selected artists to work.

The next is to continue to travel abroad, especially to visit art museums and artists in other countries, especially Japan. I don't know of any other religion or exercise that is as healthy mentally and physically as painting, sculpture and book art.

I have a special interest in book art. It's a very powerful weapon to express an idea about political and environmental disasters. So I enjoy and appreciate working with the book art project at the Wedora Gallery in India. I would be delighted to continue to play decisively with Salvation. I have worked with young children for over 20 years. I am particularly interested in the various action plans and documents, to direct the true and effective path of the arts to young children.

Q. Being an artist what is your ultimate expectation in life?

I do not really think of the ultimate goal, but it is my hope to work today and work with a clear mind, without thinking of the past or the future. My ambition is to always work with these ideas to sculpt, paint, do book art or work with any other alternative material.