|A gallery of neo-realism
Tilake Abeysinghe is an extreme Stoic. Paintings were destroyed forever, but he would paint again and the arm he would put back to life, he resolved. He needed the resolve, the resolve of the Tuscans whose greatest son Michaelangelo commanded as with his hammer and chisel carving David or with the brush painting the dome of the Sistine Chapel with agonising patience. Perhaps Tilake imbibed some traits of Tuscan hardihood while he was studying Art in Milan in the early 1960s.
While doctors and native physicians were attending to his dead arm, Tilake stupified everybody by picking up the brush with his left hand! "I never knew I was ambidextrous," Tilake laughingly recalled very much later, "I had used my left hand, now and then, like a reserve. That was all. There was no need to use the left hand so much then. But now, I thought, I may have to rely on it totally. What if my right hand refused to move? I couldnt take a chance."
Tilake began to paint with his left hand. It was a slow, gruelling and experimental process. But his great passion for his work in art prevailed over the natural lethargy of a limb. Gradually the left hand yielded to the will of the most determined and stubborn artist I have known. Tilake was now a southpaw. He filled the canvases with mighty strokes dealt by his left hand, re-creating the pictures devoured by the fire and the new medium he evolved through the illness, which he calls, "Innovative neo-realism." Its the sequel to his earlier work on realism and abstract. "I like to change my patterns," he says, "creative art is an evolutionary process."
Tilake could never forget his left hand: it melted the anguish the Central Bank inferno inflicted on him and it also made him come to terms, undauntedly, with an immobile right arm now mercifully responding to medication. By 2001 Tilake was ready to exhibit his new work. He hauled his panels to Rajagiriya where his new medium went on exhibitionhis 72ndat the Central Bank Study Centre, sponsored by the Central Bank. CB Governor A. S. Jayawardena, a close and devoted friend, art connoisseur and his patron who was with him like a brother through the vicissitudes of his life, opened the exhibtion. Central Bank, though a philistine monetary institution, overtly unrelated to art, surprisingly though became almost a repository of Tilakes paintings holding some thirty paintings, including portraits of past governors, and in Tilakes words, "a major collector of my paintings."
Tilake has a wide circle of friends. They attend to his needs at exhibitions voluntarily, unbidden. At an art exhibition held a few years ago at the Mt. Lavinia hotel, Maestro Amaradeva suddenly walked in unannounced with a helper carrying a mini-harmonium. Tilake seemed oblivious to the unexpected entry of the celebrity. Amaradeva, equally unselfconscious, smiling with everybody, sat on a low platform with the harmonium laid before him and playing on it dreamily, crooned in soft melodious tones, "Saraswathi Devi Vande," the immortal composition of the late Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe. In between the singing, he turned to those in attendanc and said: "I have brought Saraswathis blessings to Tilake…" There were cheers and Tilake was grinning, puffing at his short, bent-down pipe. Also unannounced and unpremeditated was the introductory speech by journalist Edwin Ariyadasa. Edwin had been abroad until that day. He came to know, about the art exhibition only after his plane landed at the Katunayake airport. He drove direct to the Mt. Lavina Hotel from the airport, taking Tilake et al by surprise and made a fine speech. They are Tilakes good and lovable friends.
Tilake began painting when he was 5 years old. Now 73 years old, it seems coincidental and significant that the Hotel Oberoi holds his 73rd art exhibition from January 23 to 27, jointly sponsored by the Central Bank and the Deutsche Bank. In his paintings Tilake gave the female nude form a stark, sensual originality as perhaps no other artist has in our country. Tilakes nudes seem to have emerged from the artists own passionate soul.
Some bear semblance to the voluptuous Italian peasant woman. They are full-blown in body and breast. But they are graceful - not lustful. The sculpted nudes create a pleasurable longing in you associated only with eternal love; not carnal desire. Tilakes pictures that bare the woman are neither vulgar nor erotic. They are in the best taste of the true artist. You could see in them an artists homage to Motherhood... the worship of some true Goddess ... a millennium ago. Tilake has voyaged with his brush to other spiritual and celestial spheres. His themes on religion - Buddhism and Christianity - impart a distinct sense of worldly philosophy - the futility of life, its impermanence, yet, a divine hope, the great burden of love and its joy as the artist sees, beautifully translated on to canvas. In the panels are also his cosmic art, the painter reaching out to the mysteries of heaven. Some of his paintings are as fierce and intent as the eyes of the bearded artist radiant and searching...the eyes and face masquerade the benevolence that lies behind. It is true that Tilakes exterior can fool you as being hard and even belligerent. It will surprise you to discover that behind this illusory facade lives a little man, humble and soft-spoken who has sacrificed more than fifty years of his life to art.
Tilake threw away a secure government job to take to full-time painting. We thought then he was taking a great risk. But Tilake did not think so. He is a born painter and painting is his life. His art was pulling him away. He could not resist its calling. While he was studying at the Heywood College of Fine Arts in 1961 the Italian government awarded him a scholarship. That was his first encounter with the art world of Tuscany. At the Academia de Belle Arts he studied painting under Domenico Cantatore and sculpture under Marino Marini. After graduation he held a number of exhibitions in Italy and Switzerland and established his own atelier in Milan. He participated in exhibitions held in Sao Paolo, Montreal, New Delhi, Bangladesh, Fukuoka, Pakistan, Paris, Peking, Copenhagen, Hamburg and London.
In 1984 the Italian government conferred on him the title "Chevalier of the Order of Merit" for his services to art. At the Italian Embassy in Colombo there is a large mural and a 25 ft. sculpture done by Tilakeperhaps in reciprocity. At the Japan-Sri Lanka Exhibition in 1993 he received the Gold Award and the same year the Ceylon Society of Arts honoured him with the Kalapathi Award. The Lions International in 1984 acclaimed him "the most outstanding personality in aesthetic art" and presented him with a Gold. Tilake has also received the Vishva Prasadini and Ruhunuputra awards.
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