I was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the flower power days of the early 60's, back when the congestion and traffic of today's Colombo was just a glint in many a fortune tellers eye. Life was good, when taken with a pinch of salt. My childhood was filled with bicycle riding and street cricket, tempered and spiced with extreme discipline, in a Christian school, back in the days when corporal punishment was the order of the day. A time when children were meant to be seen and not heard. They really did know how to make education fun in those days, but despite that, there were two subjects I really, genuinely enjoyed. English and Art.
The thing is - I knew I wanted to be an artist (or a motorcycle racer) from an early age, but, it was the time when any self respecting patriarch absolutely had to sire an offspring that pursued the path of medicine, architecture, engineering, accounting or law. Being an artist was, as they say, "for the birds". So, after being systematically "encouraged" by my family, to study accounting and economics, I gave it a go. In boarding school, I might add. That didn't end well. I was eventually expelled from two of Sri Lanka's most prestigious schools, at the tender age of 17. After that, a few years racing motorbikes and many other, er, "life situations" I began what would be a long, fulfilling, lucrative career as a dedicated visual communicator. Working in Hong Kong, Singapore and now, back in Sri Lanka, in the publishing, advertising and design industry.
Life in the 80's
But, all through this period, I was always painting and putting together a body of work that was shown, every few years, at several solo exhibitions in Singapore and Sri Lanka. I painted whenever I could find the time of course, so the exhibitions were always held several years apart.
Now, after giving up my 32 year old career, and plunging into the world of the unknown, :) I'm trying to trace the path of how and why I ended up painting Ganesh, despite being a spiritualist yet atheist of sorts, from a christian family, education etc. So, here goes.
I started my working life as an apprentice machine minder in a well known printing press running Heidleberg KORD and SORD offset printing machines. After a year there, I moved into the advertising industry as a trainee graphic designer, and over time, moved up the ladder as a visualiser, art director and eventually creative director. This was before the advent of the Mac. It was all line screens, marked up, ordered typesetting, visuals with yoken markers, letraset type, Rotring pens, darkrooms for bromides and the constant intoxication from spirit based rubber gum.
And then, there was also the airbrush. Which I took to naturally and specialized in obsessively. The difference, by the way, of using an airbrush and a regular brush is a little like driving a car and flying a helicopter. Downward pressure regulates the amount of air and a backward motion regulates the amount of ink/colour coming out of the nozzle. A fine balancing act but one with spectacular results.
Airbrush illustration from the 1980s
However, soon, the mac arrived and all our work migrated to digital output, and so, after some years of working with a mouse, without ever touching a brush, I decided to start painting again in the mid 90's.
I was also specialising in designing brand identity systems for corporates at that time and decided to study the iconography and symbolism of the oldest brand identities - religions. My case study was Lord Ganesh. And so, just like that, I started painting Ganesha in all the classic forms, trying to understand the principles of perfect poise in the icon (which was basicaly a set of identity guidelines) and the different symbolisms, from the colour of his skin to the elements he holds in his many hands. But over the years, I started to paint my own interpretation of what the symbolism meant to me, and in the process, began to delve into vedic teachings and started to understand the concept of self realisation a little bit better.
Over the last 28 years of painting Ganesha, I have gone through many changing spiritual views. I am not conventionally religious. Temples and churches are buildings I rarely enter, but the strange, euphoric, elated feelings I get sometimes, during my meditative process of painting have led me to believe in something else. A spirituality and a consciousness within.
"Reflection", 2019 "The thinker-self portrait"2019
Now, I see Ganesha as a mirror to the soul, not as a 'favour granting god'. Instead, he represents a superimposition of reality, an idol with symbolism of deep cosmic significance. One that shuts out the preoccupations of the world and takes the mind to a single pointed focus. Not an unending search for some higher divinity, but instead, the search for a higher consciousness, a self that recognizes the unifying principle of all life and submerges the individual ego in the greater self of the God within.
As Swami Vivekananda summarizes - "Each soul is divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal, through work, worship or psychic control. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, dogmas, rituals, temples, or forms, are all but secondary details".
Yet, despite my intellect seeing Ganesha as a superimposition of reality, my soul or consciousness makes his presence and image feel like something more, beyond the symbolism and the teachings. He poses for me in my mind, and the images he brings to me transcend convention, formality, dogma and even gender. Their meaning is sometimes obscure even to me.
This is why I continue to paint Lord Ganesh.