It is with deep sadness that we acknowledge the death of Stanley Kirinde. It is not only a irreparable loss to his family but also to us who knew and admired him, and to the entire country and the world of art. But what we should do is not mourn his death but celebrate his life. In Stanley’s case it is a life to be truly celebrated, admired and emulated. He was a great artist and a humane and humble person, a devoted and loving family man, and a good friend. He could truly walk with kings and be easy with the lowliest.
Stanley Kirinde, all through his life, was a very down to earth person, completely devoid of hubris and took no pride in the fact that he was one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent artists of all time, and that he had brought singular distinction to our country through his art.
The artist was at long last given the wide prominence that was overdue. This was achieved through the initiative of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar and the publication of the book: The World of Stanley Kirinde with text by SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, photographs by Studio Times and Luxshmanan Nadaraja and designed by Nelun Harasgama Nadaraja. Stamford Lake (Pvt) Ltd undertook the publishing. The result is excellent.
The 335 paged excellent coffee table edition has many of Kirinde’s paintings magnificently reproduced. One remarkable feature is the inclusion of photographs. I wondered whether the juxtaposition of photographs against Kirinde’s paintings would detract from the latter. Not at all. The final result is excellent; the photographs capturing and displaying the background to Kirinde’s life and work starting from his childhood home village of Deegala to shots of Trinity College and moving on to his wife’s walauwe in Kalawewa to views of the various stations he worked in.
Kirinde the self effacing person
The book mentions, in several places, the fact of Stanley’s humility even in the face of fame.
Once, some time ago, (pre the publication) at an exhibition of his work I mentioned the fact to his wife that Stanley just does not promote himself, and he needs must have promotion. Ira agreed and said: "That is Stanley. Always dedicated and great but never seeks the limelight. He is happy painting or giving of himself totally to his official duties. So let him."
Very fortuitously, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the magnanimous person he was who recognized excellence when he saw it, took the initiative to bring Kirinde to the notice of all Sri Lankans and those abroad. In fact he, the minister, had scheduled the launch of The World of Stanley Kirinde to coincide with a meeting in Colombo of Sri Lanka’s consular ambassadors so the notice of the book and thus the fame of the artist would spread far and wide.
Kirinde the government servant
On my visit with my brother, a classmate of Stanley’s, to the Kirinde’s in their charming home in Battaramulla, prior to reviewing the book, the talk veered to his work in government service. He started as a District Land Officer (DLO) and rose to holding very important public sector jobs. It was with a fair amount of dexterity that we steered the conversation to his art. He would go back to telling us how much he enjoyed his official work, especially in the outstations and more so in Polonnaruwa which was then not the tourist centre it now is. He detailed his land kachcheri work and the love he had for the peasantry of the country; so also the joy he took in promoting D S Senanayake’s concept of colonization schemes.
"I had to work under C P de Silva, a hard minister to please but much good was done to homeless peasants. I used to have to carry lakhs to distribute to the people who were being settled in the colonization schemes and lakhs then were equivalent to millions now. Never did we have a problem, never did I fear traveling alone with the jeep driver, carrying all that cash. Often, money was brought back to the place we lived in – a couple of other government servants and I. On such nights, depending on the amount brought to the house, we would sleep in greater numbers in my room! I had to decide on the distribution of land judging the bona fides of the applicants. Not a question was raised nor a complaint made. They accepted my decisions as just." This last said as an afterthought almost. Again no trace of projecting himself as the honest public servant, serving the people with no thought for himself. That came naturally to him.
Kirinde the artist
A full word picture of Stanely Kirinde the artist is given in the book, The World of Stanley Kirinde with concentration naturally on his work and life as a self taught, self propelled, self pleasing artist who is one of Sri Lanka’s best artists of all time by whatever criteria judgment is made. I say this boldly since this is the opinion of many. I recollect the conversation I had with Stanley and Iranganie, and give below some parts of it.
Question: Is there any incident that really propelled you to draw. You must have had the gene, lurking within you but what brought it out, if such a bringing out was wrought.
Kirinde’s answer: Yes, there was a push, as it were. My mother used to go often to temple and take me with her. I used to gaze at the paintings on the temple walls and marvel at them. Never tired of looking at them. Once home I used to draw things that stuck in my mind. I drew on my sister’s and cousins’ books, much to their horror, and of course on the walls and any surface I could get my hands on. My father then started bringing me a drawing book and pencil every evening. This was at age six or so when painting became what I liked to do best.
Question: Has Buddhism had a great influence on your work as an artist?
Answer: Yes, the Jataka stories, for one. The history of the country, its culture, historical places, villagers, the peasantry have all been of interest to me as an artist. As a Sri Lankan I paint pictures of Sri Lanka. Just consider the military dexterity of a leader such as Konappu Bandara who led the Portuguese on their retreat from Kandy due to lack of supplies to a marshland in Danture, where they were bogged in and defeated.
Questions: When do you paint best, any special time? Have you, do you experience the equivalent of writers block; do you need inspiration to get down to painting?
Answer: I paint at all times. I used to come home from work when I was employed and would go almost immediately to a canvas I was working on. Now retired, I can paint whenever I feel like it. No, never do I need that sudden inspiration and I never feel I cannot paint. Of course an idea comes to mind, I mull over it and then transfer it to paper or canvas.
Question: During the war years and at times when foreign exchange problems curtailed imports, how did you manage with finding what you needed?
Answer: I innovated and improvised. For instance when I could not afford canvas or it was not available I used good gunny sack – jute hessian, even long cloth. I made a primer mixing zinc white, gum and linseed oil. This David Paynter taught me. When my paint brushes wore out, I removed the remaining bristles, and inserted into the metal part extracted bristles from a shaving brush and trimmed them to size. These were dirt cheap and still very good!
Question: I feel diffident to ask about your styles of painting, how they developed etc since I know next to nothing.
Answer: Most definitely I was influenced, say by the Renaissance painters, not by modern art even of the 19th and early 20th centuries. I have been influenced by Indian art and I do love their miniature painting. It is so beautiful and decorative too. I have done many in that style. The miniature style is ideal for painting Buddhist themes. But my painting is my style. I paint as I want to. I do not have a real nationalistic outlook either. That is an outdated word. I have the self respect of the artist. That is very important. There is no self respect in imitation. Art must be refined. There is grandeur too.
Question: How did it come about that you were invited to paint the portrait of the President of India, K R Narayanan?
Answer: I really don’t know how. Maybe it was because the portrait I did of Ian Goonetilake was photographed by Ian and copies sent to his friends and acquaintances all over the world. Maybe the Indian President was shown a copy. Also maybe he wanted a non-Indian to do his official portrait.
(You can discern here the self effacing artist totally lacking in hubris. Anyone else but Stanley would have said: "Since he recognized me as the artist I am", or even " He recognized my ability."
It was in 2000 that I suddenly got a message that the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka wanted to meet me and would visit us. We had just moved to this house. So Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon did arrive one evening and stunned me with the news that his President, wanted me to paint his portrait and that all arrangements would be made to take me and my wife to India and host us in New Delhi. It was a wonderful couple of days we spent there, at the Ashok Hotel and being taken around to Agra and other places, since the President was busy and could not give me a sitting soon after we arrived. He was such a gracious man. He gave me a letter of thanks, personally written by him, which added: "I hope while doing my portrait you would not follow the tradition of making it too solemn and grave. If you can introduce a smile, I will appreciate it."
Comment: Your restoring the Trinity chapel paintings was another great job.
Answer: Yes, it was good to be back in College. David Paynter’s paintings are marvelous. Some did not need much touching up, those in the main middle section.
My next questions were to Ira Kirinde.
Question: Did you know the man proposed to you in marriage was also an artist or only that he was a top government servant?
Answer: Yes, and I did not mind it
(Which was drowned with Stanley saying she did not know at all about the art side. Those days if one were an artist, it was a disqualification in marriage, even life!)
Question: Have you had to cope with your husband being an artist? Was your life very different from any other housewife’s?
Answer : (very shyly). Yes I did have to sort of cope when he got engrossed in his painting. But he has been very good to me – gave me complete freedom and allows me to have my friends and go about etc.
That was the perfect end to a most gratifying evening of talking with Stanley Kirinde and Iranganie Ratwatte Kirinde. Here were a devoted-to-each-other couple, devoted to their children and grandchildren. Death has cut the bond, but we know Iranganie, supported by her family will, with time get over her sorrow. Life is impermanent and death is the one sure thing in life, is a belief she subscribes to.