In conversation with C. Anjalendran

Lionel Wendt was an artist of prolific significance contributing to the discourse of essentially black and white photography as a genre infused with a Sri Lankan consciousness. What it meant in the larger context of the nation's artistic personality is an imprint of artist's style and essence. Lionel Wendt's fervent and passionate contribution to Sri Lankan Modernist Art, through his praxis and vast knowledge about varied styles and techniques contributed to his unique perceptions. Lionel Wendt himself, of charm and wit, splendour and grace expressed and observed through his works, as they emitted the findings of commonplace nuances yet recreating them conspicuously. In conversation with art personality, C. Anjalendran, Architect & Collector, we explore the depths and complexities of Lionel Wendt's thought process as an artist, which is not only characteristic of a unique style and identity, but that also which stems from deeper understandings, lateral thinking and profound worldviews. 

Q | In your opinion, what is the significance of Lionel Wendt's works? 

The power of Lionel Wendt is that he captured ordinary life, and that is true of profound artists and architects such as George Keyt and Andrew Boyd. In fact, Lionel Wendt influenced Andrew Boyd in pursuing architecture, who also indulged in photography and also George Keyt into painting houses, trees, landscapes. Lionel Wendt was interested in everyday life – the beauty of everyday life. I use architecture to celebrate everyday life, to which I am indebted to Wendt's photographs as they inspired me to become what I am. There was nobody else who was passionate enough to play the piano, take a photograph and experiment with surrealism. It is the combination of these characteristics that make him, and his work, significant. 

Q | In your opinion, why was Lionel Wendt's influence significant to Andrew Boyd, as an architect, whom you greatly admire? 

Andrew Boyd arrived in Sri Lanka as a tea taster in the early 1930s. And then he met pioneering personalities Lionel Wendt and George Keyt who influenced his growth trajectory in both the personal and professional. Those are very important connections as they also fuelled the direction of my own work. Most architectural discourse in Sri Lanka is about the rich villas and hotels, not about the everyday. What I am interested is in thought. When I write about contemporary architecture, I am interested in the thought processes behind them while addressing questions such as where we are now, and where can we go from here. Lionel Wendt, George Keyt and Andrew Boyd formed these dialogues through their work, and that is the thought process, which I have been tracing in my work and literature. And I can't be interested in that thought process, if it didn't influence my work. 

Q | What of Lionel Wendt's photograph, captures your attention most and why? 

Henri-Cartier Bresson had a photograph of a man jumping over a puddle with his reflection called, 'The Decisive Moment' which means that he couldn't have taken it a second before, or a second after. For me, that photograph more than anything else, captures the beauty of a precise moment in time. On those lines, the photograph of Lionel Wendt that captures a young boy amidst palm fronds in the background, swirling a rope celebrates a decisive moment. I think the main body of the work of Lionel Wendt is of decisive moments. Perhaps that is why I like his works. Though some are still life, it is 'A Decisive Moment', to quote Cartier Bresson, this half nude lies by the side of my bed. 

C. Anjalendran began as a student of prolific architect Geoffrey Bawa. His works are renowned and celebrated across the nation and internationally for its modernist spirit and the reflection of Sri Lanka's rich vernacular architectural conventions. Anjalendra's refined eye and erudite understanding of the arts is a consequence and result of hours and practice, reading and research. A distinguished and scholarly architect himself, Anjalendran completed his architectural B.Sc in Sri Lanka (1973), and completed his post-graduate diploma (1976) and a research masters (1979) in spatial morphology at University College London. 

Returning to Sri Lanka, he next pursued architecture off his mother's veranda, and was an apprentice to Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka's legendary icon, and Cover Personality for ARTRA Magazine E55, 2020, where he absorbed the manner through which the legend addressed challenges of modern life through inventive and stylistic architecture. “Anjalendran: Architect of Sri Lanka” by David Robson was published by Tuttle (Singapore) in 2009. Anjalendran received the Golden Award for Global contribution to Architecture, in Delhi in October 2011. In 2015, Tailsman (Singapore) published “The Architectural Heritage of Sri Lanka: Measured Drawings from the Anjalendran Studio” by David Robson.

As we vicariously unravel the life of Lionel Wendt and the story behind his work in scintillating conversation with Anjalendran, we find Wendt's style and essence of creation of vital importance as it influenced both visual and applied art in Sri Lanka. Through his own practice of architecture, Anjalendran shares with resolution the influences of Lionel Wendt in the impact in architecture through Andrew Boyd and effects upon other artists. Greatly inspired by the legacy and vestige of Lionel Wendt, Anjalendran's perception symbolises the ubiquitous fingerprint of the artist's style and technique, also represented in the much quoted eulogy by Pablo Neruda, where Wendt the pianist, photographer and critic, and cinematographer, "was the central figure of the cultural life torn between the death rattles of the empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Sri Lanka”.


18th February, 2021 Applied Art