A CONVERSATION WITH NELEISHA WEERASINGHE

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, I can’t figure out

Something Beautiful by NeedToBreathe

 

Tempestuous oceanscapes will stake claim to centre stage at self-taught painter Neleisha Weerasinghe’s first solo exhibition at Art Space Sri Lanka early next month.

Infusing her palette knife paintings with a palpable sense of movement and energy, the results are highly textured images composed of bold strokes of saturated acrylic paint on canvas.

Something Beautiful’ -inspired by the lyrics above- promises to take viewers through the same journey as that of the artist’s; conjuring an emotional state of gratefulness found at the heart of a storm.

 

Tell us about what we can expect from ‘Something Beautiful.’

 

This exhibition is very important to me as someone who hasn’t really followed a structured education in the Arts. This will be an introduction to the style of work I do, and the conversations I hope to inspire.

The series is an expression of my own journey through a turbulent time, and how in retrospect things don’t seem as bad as they once appeared – conceptualised through the

waves in my paintings erasing the shore, appearing to give way to a fresh start (clean slate).

While I invite viewers to reconstruct and deconstruct what they see at will, ‘Something Beautiful’ is a testament to my humble reflections on natural beauty. I am often moved by the profound sense of energy that the ocean seems to exude; that which paradoxically always has a calming effect on my own soul. As a result, I see in perspective the smallness of our beings, and how insignificant our troubles really are, in comparison to the grander scheme of things. I hope my paintings are able to provide that same hopeful outlook to those seeking to be lifted up themselves.

There will be thirteen pieces on show; mostly smaller artworks, and about three medium-sized paintings. My palette-knife depictions of the beautiful beaches and oceans from our island will feature most prominently.

 

A palette-knife is not usually the tool of choice for most artists, let alone a self-taught one. Why did you choose to wield this instrument over the more traditional paintbrush?

I think it started back in 2015 when I become fascinated with creating textured work. I did a lot of research online on artists who create similar paintings and the techniques they use. I did first attempt achieving texture with the paintbrush itself, but wasn’t very pleased with the end-product, so I naturally gravitated to the next lot of tools I had access to: the knives.

I tend to work with a lot of layers, and this choice is not for the impatient artist to make; especially when your instrument-of-choice is the palette knife. In addition, I prefer using the thinner edge of the knife over its broader angle, which understandably adds more time to the creative process. Funnily enough, I have found in myself plenty of patience to sit and see a painting through via this approach.

I am now quite comfortable painting this way and hope to dedicate the course of my artistic career to fine-tuning the technique.

 

Would you say that you are spontaneous with your creative process? Do you see yourself exploring other themes in the future?

I work mostly from life, but I also use reference photos for landscapes and where needed, I rely on memory, imagination, and emotions.

While the discussions I hope to kindle are based on self-reflection, the painting process in itself is an introspective one for me. I may start based on a sketch of something I’ve already seen, but more often than not, my knife-strokes take a more spontaneous turn as I ‘play by eye.’

My current body of work consists of two distinct styles; one being a more robust and spontaneous approach with texture with a palette knife, while the other is more intuitive, with intricate line work. I like to play around with unusual colour combinations and textures to create a balance between abstract and realism.

Themes that interest me in general are the mundane and ordinary day to day simple pleasures. Further down the line I may even experiment with figurative painting.

 

I’m sure you have as much respect for self-taught artists (such as yourself) as for academically qualified artists. What would you advise young individuals with a penchant for the Arts, who may not have access to a formal Art education?

If there is anything my own journey has taught me, it is that if you cannot love what you do to start with, you will not be able to make it in the long run. Although I was born to parents with artistic inclinations themselves, I found myself pursuing a Marketing career. While I did attend a few classes at the Vibhavi Academy, I realised that my version of what Art is couldn’t be taught in a curriculum – sitting and listening to lectures just didn’t work for me.

I preferred to experiment; even to fail, and then try again. I read a lot about various techniques and how and what can be achieved -and overcome- through them. Through this I learned to figure out my own style -which I can now confirm is a mid-way point between realism and abstract-, having experimented with myself on what comes most naturally.

Having said this, I think all artists are self-taught in some way, particularly when it comes to their own style and vision. I would always suggest that if anyone does have access to a formal education, to by all means to go for it; however only on the condition that they don’t allow it to drown out their own voice.

For those choosing to pave their own path, I still say that irrespective of passion and drive, a foundation in familiarising with the basics is always recommended, and needs to be honed daily, in addition with one’s own research via reading and online sources.

In either sphere you will need to put in the hard work and truly believe in the skills you have been bestowed. Love the work you do, but constructive self-criticism is also vital to improving your work.

 

‘Something Beautiful’, by Neleisha Weerasinghe

will be free and open to the public

from the 2nd to the 5th of August 2018 at Art Space Sri Lanka

 

– Article by Shaahima Raashid