‘Unseen’ by Prasanna, Lester and Lalith | Sunday Observer

‘Unseen’ by Prasanna, Lester and Lalith

4 December, 2022
Painting by Lester Perera
Painting by Lester Perera

The Colombo National Museum unveils its brand new gallery space yesterday with a reception for ‘Unseen’ a group exhibition by Prasanna Weerakkody, Lester Perera and Lalith Senanayake. The exhibition will be held until December 16.

Prasanna Weerakkody

Born and growing up in a family of artists has its advantages. From a young age, Prasanna was surrounded by art and artists. Having art materials in hand always to experiment led him to venture in art and painting from his childhood. Though being a self-taught artist, his work draws inspiration from his father late Kalasuri, Kalamanya, Ariyawansa Weerakkody, a veteran artist/sculptor and cinema art director and his mother Kamala who was a well-recognised art teacher who worked at Samudra Devi, Mahanama and Museus Colleges in Colombo among other places.

An avid naturalist Prasanna’s debut into art was initially as a leading wildlife painter with several book and poster illustration credits under his name. He also ventured into becoming a professional artist early on, engaging in book illustration while he was still 16 years old and schooling.

Prasanna always had an inherent interest in history taking after his father who was also a historian. Around 2000, Prasanna started to deviate from his initial focus in wildlife art to painting reconstructions of Sri Lankan history and ancient Sri Lankan lifestyles. 

His only solo exhibition “Kindred” was held in 2002 at the National Art Gallery and was a resounding success which also drew many public accolades for his historic paintings which formed a pivotal point in life for Prasanna where he chose to let go of painting wildlife art and dedicate himself to the pursuit of historic reconstruction paintings.

Reconstructions of Sri Lankan history based on meticulous research and subjects of fantasy and mythology become the unique focal point in his paintings. His work is well recognised in Sri Lanka and hangs in many public spaces including the Katunayake airport, Sri Lankan High commission in Delhi, India and Defence establishments as well as many private collections. The themes of historic Sinhala warriors and battles are a prominent theme among his paintings and his work regularly seeks out aspects of Sinhala historical lifestyles, costumes and events rarely captured and explored by others.

 Prasanna works primarily with Acrylics on canvas and regularly produces large canvases ranging up to 12x6 foot in size while also working in oil and watercolor media. Though he does not engage in it regularly, he is also a skilled sculptor. He is also a skilled digital artist in both digital painting media, graphics, and 3D modelling/sculpting.

Prasanna works as production designer in Cinema. He also works as a concept artist for game and product development and also as architectural designer for specialised thematic projects. 

He has a significant web presence through his art which is widely circulated through social media and the web.

Prasanna is a leading environmentalist working, especially on conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems and species in Sri Lanka.

Lester Perera

Among the most reputed bird artists with over 12 solo exhibitions in Sri Lanka as well as international events. His work has been published in many magazines and journals. He is a fanatical birder/ornithologist and an overall naturalist working in Sri Lanka and India. A self-taught and a passionate artist he has been primarily painting birds in their appropriate settings. Lester’s paintings are principally off the field. His mediums vary from Acrylic, to watercolor and pen and ink. His extensive fieldwork on birds has had a great influence on authenticity of the species he paints. He is as passionate of his field sketching and painting in the field.

Lester Perera as a birder and naturalist from childhood began sketching anything found alive. However, a series of three books titled Harmsworth Natural History, which belonged to his grandfather and subsequently to his father, probably influenced him the most and as an artist. The illustrations in these three books were the earliest pictures he saw and drew from as a child. Magazines such as “Loris” and “Field and Stream” too became his favorites among many other books and magazines.

“My family always loved animals and the wilds. That “trait” may have played a greater role in determining my life. Throughout my childhood we had many wild and domestic animals as pets often, orphaned ones fondly nurtured back to healthy life by me and father fondly assisted by mother. I apart from the animals at home did tag along side my father during his hunting sessions with the beagles we had,” Lester said.

It was just around his mid-teens that he started visiting the Zoological Gardens that turned a new chapter in Lester’s life. He said the freedom he experienced through these journeys contributed immensely to what he is today.

“Another plus was the inaccessibility to literature, which forced me further to sketch at the zoo and in the field as well. After leaving school, I worked and helped establish a sea turtle research and conservation work station in Bundala (South East Sri Lanka) for the National Aquatic Resources Agency (NARA),” he said.

During his tenure at NARA, Lester also undertook work on cetaceans too. During the time, he recorded an unusual beaked whale, which was an enigma for over two decades but later recognised and identified as the first Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) to our waters. Along with Anouk Illangakoon and foreign funding, they pioneered research on pelagic birds in 2008 and cetaceans. The research paper was presented at the Indian Ocean Cetacean Symposium in the Maldives in July 2009.

Apart from being a bird artist, Lester’s expertise extends beyond Sri Lanka to India as well, where he had birdwatched extensively throughout the subcontinent from the South to the Ladakh in the North, from Rajasthan to Tinsukia in Assam and the Andaman Islands as well.

The fanaticism to search for bird species in the region has taken him regularly while leading tours to various destinations in India’s lesser known wild places.

“My professional career as a birder for over 20 years, leading specialised birding tours In Sri Lanka and India including the Andaman Islands is possibly the best sites a human can have. I am a passionate wildlife sound recordist, and my collection of Indian bird species recorded exceeds over 400 species,” Lester said.

Lalith Senanayake

Laliths father’s interest in-to-restoration of cars and his work place has had a compounding impact on his psyche. The early years of his childhood was hanging around his father, while assisting him in his work, doing so he claims that he found material such as spring, wire and an array of odd discarded vehicle parts which he was interested in from a different angle.

Initially, he said, it was wire which he indulged in trying to create “stuff” though it was “Kid Stuff”. His inclination to like and see forms was the “seed’. As years passed the love into forms, in which one would consider “scrap” lingered on. During his forays in to sculpture wrangling metal for structural strength of his work, invoked in him the thought of working purely on metal and other material.

A steep learning curve, thereon fusing different metals and numerous works augmented in to apassion and profession.True to its sense, he is pretty much soft spoken unassuming yet a considerate and deep personality. His approach, to life and his work is much vagabond like, venturing into spears few would venture.

Indulging in many projects, Lailith is an outright artist of many spheres. His experiences are astounding, from painting ancient temple art to film making, from draftsmanship to graphic design he has made inroads far afield, thus creating a space for himself and a comfort zone much sort after by artists.

From Storyboard Making (Hollywood Movies) into info graphics thereon to being a cartoonist (1996- Journalism award for excellence “Best Cartoonist” of the year), his forays into the extremities of the art world are monumental from a Sri Lankan perspective. Lalith has been a guest artist at numerous exhibitions and has exhibited his work in many countries.

His humbling nature does not seek accolades yet there is applause galore from growing followers from far afield. The “LOOK” a bull at rest, is possibly an all-time benchmake of his work. The intricate symmetry is inconceivable in his work. The animal form in all its glory is the “HORSE” installed in Thailand. His indulgence with an array of scrap metal on the installation is spellbinding. – “Time Traveller” in 2021 in metal is a casting seven foot in height, adorns the city of Chengdu in China. More elaborate work is in national as well as private collections.

In 2015 and 1016, his work was exhibited on invitation at four venues in Kuwait and Singapore. Two solo exhibitions in India on invitation (2008 and 2009) and several in Sri Lanka as well have elevated him as one of the first to explore in to installation art and sculpture. His work is highly sort after and plethora of assignments, from aficionados and collectors alike make his life an adventure of sorts.

Lalith, along with his wife and two children, reached international acclaim in 2019 by creating a life-size model of an elephant, simply by collecting plastic waste washed ashore on the Western coast in Colombo. Another project in the same vein on the Nilavelli Beach (East coast of Sri Lanka) had to be abandoned due to the Covid pandemic which engulfed the world. It was a 150-foot whale on the Nilavelli beach. It would have been the biggest structure of that sort in the world.