Walking through a path of imaginary words
Artists are legendary party people and so it's best to do this walk
early evening when they are in their gallery shops or studios and happy
to explain why they used an abandoned rock to paint on with their old
tooth brush, or porcupine quill and even in some cases their big toe.
The timing is of paramount importance as with these artists, one can
never be quite certain as to when they have recklessly abandoned their
muse in search of Bacchus and Succubus or when the muse has fecklessly
abandoned them to reclusive hermitage in search of solitude and
Galle Fort's Sithuvili Gallery on 56, Leyn Baan Street is as good a
place to start as any. Here you can meet the local artists in the Dutch
courtyard of Janaka De Silva's art gallery shop, which you will find at
the back after walking through a very colourful elongated building.
Janaka is no ordinary artist and from the moment he could draw whether
it was with toothpaste or a porcupine quill using inks he made from bits
of old tree bark Janaka was always creating work that not only came from
the environment, but also reflected his love of it. He thinks artists
should look back at the great master painters of the Sigiriya Rock
Fortress palace murals. Like King Kashyapa's artists, Janaka prefers to
use natural paints from the forest and colours that are not only
environmentally friendly, but will also last for centuries.
Like most artists he is a great lover of life and the journey he has
taken is reflected back in his work at the Sithuvili Art Gallery, where
you will see everything from his religious inspired masterpieces framed
on old doorframes and windows to recycled Dutch boxes on sale only for
the serious collectors.
Turn left out of Sithuvili onto Pedlar's Street and walk one block to
Printers Private Hotel at 39, Pedlars Street, an art piece in its own
right with a giant bronze front door key replete with magnificent
restoration work done by Channa Daswatte, the great architect Geoffrey
Bawa's protégé. A stunning original merchant house made with coral, like
all the great houses of the Fort, including the Dutch prisons it has
been many things - a bank, school and printing works before it became a
boutique hotel and gallery in 2003.
Here there are regular bi-monthly exhibitions of leading artists from
around the country, both local and international. You can look around
the gallery and enjoy the setting over a coffee or lunch in the
courtyard restaurant and pool area. Refreshed one can hit the crossroads
of the fort and be part of the hustle of street sellers from wood
carvings to lace makers and the vibrancy of Barefoot across the road,
whose woven fabrics are always set off by interesting photography
exhibitions and a corridor of art. Further along the street is Peddler's
Inn gallery with watercolours and photographs of the Fort. The verandah
gallery as it has become known is a charming place to see watercolours
of the local characters and familiar Fort scenes that capture the real
life and spirit of the place.
For something modern, bright and bold head back to Church Street and
to Exotic Roots where you will discover a family of female artists, who
paint on everything from leather to handmade terracotta tiles to trays
and coasters. They also painted the cover of the bestselling book Around
the Fort in 80 Lives and have their large acrylic on canvas pieces,
sought after by villas all along the coastline on display. Catherine is
in situ on Fridays and is always happy to talk about her latest works of
passion and what it took to map Galle Fort, the centre piece of her
shop. She is very proud of her two daughters Asia and Inca who love to
show the beauty of the country's wildlife whether it's the majestic
peacock or the elephant.
The power and creativity of Asia is perhaps most poignantly
remembered in the fading afternoon light, underneath an ancient banyan
tree in Law Court Square when she drew a tree on the Galle Literary
Festival graffiti wall and woven along the branches she wrote: 'Colours
fade, temples crumble, empires fall but wise words endure.'
Law Court Square is a few minute walk further up the street and where
you turn right by the Cinnamon warehouses (now the Maritime museum) into
Law Court square, where the Magistrates and High Courts are situated.
The place is also famous now for contemporary art with new painters and
artisans showing their creative works every month from 8.30am to 5pm on
the last Sunday at the Golden Flea Market and in the innovative and
bi-monthly Saskia Fernando Gallery collections, which are now exhibited
and available to see daily on the top floor at Number One, Law Court
Open Tuesday to Saturday and by appointment on Sunday and Monday,
this white washed gallery with a bijou balcony overlooking the square is
all about contemporary artists living and working in Sri Lanka and also
emerging designers. Exhibition artists have included Saskia Pintelon,
Jagath Weerasinghe, Jagath Ravindra, Mika Tennekoon and Kingsley
Gunatillake and more recently Saskia has included designer chairs and
jewellery, even socks, all locally designed and produced - begging the
question what is art?
Wandering back along the other end of Leyn Baan Street you can stop
and see Olanda Boutique and Antiques with their designer collection of
chairs and original hand carved wooden doors. Every object is a
masterpiece in its own right. Finish your tour off at the Serendipity
Arts Café and enjoy Australian contemporary artist Nigel Sense's pop art
excursions adorning the walls with their provocative statements.
Whether you come out snagging the next Turner prize painting of the
next master to make your ardent collector friends back home jealous or
just had your curiosity piqued or concluded that what you saw was
definitely in its own realm of badness, this is one walk you will never
forget as memories and nightmares will collide in that part of the brain
that is your imagination. For more on art, read The Power of Sri Lankan
Art by Sri Serendipity Publishing Housea, a highly academic coffee table
chronicling 70 years of Sri Lankan Art starting with the 43 Group. The
Power of Sri Lankan Art can be bought at Barefoot, Odel and all leading
bookshops. It can also be purchased from Sri Serendipity Publishing
House, who will happily gift wrap the book as well.