Taking a turn in abstract art, with H. A. Karunaratne on the 21st of June

Who Is H.A. Karunaratne ?

H.A. Karunaratne remains a prolific artist even at his advanced age. His art practice mainly involves painting and sculpture, where he uses a variety of media and is popular for his abstract expressionist paintings, which vividly embody the stillness, and dissolution of time. His artwork has been exhibited extensively both locally and internationally and is in the collection of leading art museums and galleries world over.  

In the linear narrative of Sri Lankan art history, we could locate H. A. Karunaratne as a pivotal figure. Although several books have existed based on 43’ Group and its members, HA Karunarate has remained a somewhat neglected artist in the history of Sri Lankan art. His new book “H A Karunaratne”, written by Anoli Perera and published by Taprobane Collection is a timely venture to enrich and give due place to the artist.

Who are the 43' group members ?

The 43’Group members showed a diverse influence in their art practice. Justin Dereniyagala, Harry Pieris, George Classon and to some extent Ivan Pieris show influence of Parisian modernism in their practice. Whereas Gabriel showed an inclination towards tradition and George Kyte showed Indian influence namely of Rajpup paintings especially in his Nayaka series paintings (after his return from India). They steadily steered Sri Lankan art scene into a new era.  

Sri Lankan modern art mostly remained as figurative style till the ’60s. The subject matter dealt by the members of the ’43 group was similar to that of their predecessors – landscapes, portraits and village scenery.  This situation changed during the year 1960 with the practice of some members of the ’43 Group like George Classon, with non-figurative traditions of painting beginning to establish its foothold in Sri Lankan art scene.  

What sets Theertha apart?

Theertha is an autonomous, artist-led non-profit initiative located in the heart of Colombo and has been operating since the year 2000. Having undertaken a countless amount of art activities since its inception, first started by 11 visual artists to facilitate international art exchange through international artist workshops in Sri Lanka, its activities have been extended to include art education through many other areas such as art teacher training, publications on art/culture, workshops for artists, international and local exhibition through which Theertha has involved itself in a positive light to create awareness on contemporary art and its ideologies among the art students and the artists’ community-based in Colombo.

Through their art publication, they also have tried to publicise discussions on current art/ culture issues to a larger community within Sri Lanka. Theertha, who support the art of the 90’s trend which challenged the existing aesthetics, methodologies, and ideology in art making has always emphasized and encouraged innovative and experimental ideas among artists. Theertha has showcased some of the innovative artworks done by contemporary artists. Through the patronage of Theertha the relatively new art forms to Sri Lanka such as performance art and installation got the opportunity and forums to expand and evolve.

How did Sri Lankan modern art begin ?

The transformation of the Sri Lankan art took place at the end of the colonial period with the British introducing academic Victorian style of art into the school curriculum and in the art scene in general. Artist ACGS Amarasekara was a pre-eminent exponent of this trend.  However, it was CF Windsor who was the first school inspector of arts, insisted on the need for organic growth of art practice with the fusion of tradition and new western trends in art in this country. He was instrumental in the creation of ’43 group which later went to become one of the leading art groups in Asia at that time.  Among the notable members of the 43’ Group were George Keyt, Justin Deraniyagala, Ivan Peris, George Claessen, Richard Gabriel, and a few others. The 43’Group represented the anti-colonial struggle in the art that was wielding power in the socio-political context of Indian Subcontinent during the time. The 43 Group showed interest towards a mix of tradition and influence of the Ecole de Paris, moving away from the academic Victorian style that was favoured by the colonial masters.

How did H.A. Karunaratne change modern art ?

The change was enhanced with the emergence of H.A. Karunaratne as an influential artist with his skills acquired from New York. Karunaratne’s work defined the place of spirituality in Sri Lankan modern art, which had great appeal among the people and the new generation of art students who were conditioned by Buddhist philosophy. Karunaratne’s art practice had great relevance to Sri Lankan context in terms of its spiritual inclination and remained insular despite increasing anxiety and stresses that was gradually engulfing the social context of the country.

Karunaratne’s formal academic art education began at the Govt. College of Fine Arts. He was trained under eminent artists J D A Perera, David Paynter and Stanley Abeysinghe. He had a short spell of the art training in New York and Tokyo in the 1960s. He was a lecturer in painting at the Institute of Aesthetic Studies (IAS) of the University of Kelaniya where he was a major influence on generations of young artists to work with the ideas of abstraction and abstract expressionism. This was the only art institution that offered a degree level education in Sri Lanka for a long time for generations of young artists.

The book will be launched on the 21st of June,2019 at the Olympus, BMICH. An exhibition of artworks by Karanaratne, to mark the book launch will be held on the 28th of June 6 pm at “Red Dot” gallery, Theertha International Artists Collective, Borella.

ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.


20th June, 2019 Visual Art | Paintings