It was easy to talk about art with him. The problem was to keep him focused on art. Amaresh Pereira knows enough about art. That’s why he was hired sometime ago to serve the University of Peradeniya as a visiting lecturer to teach art.
The entire duration he spent talking to Weekend Nation turned out to be a battle between me trying to keep him on track and Amaresh trying to deviate from art. “Technique in art always bugged me. My vision is to bring out something through art. When I talk now, it’s the artist in me that is surfacing. If the subject is not art I might be a passive observer because I am an extremely shy person,” said the 39-year-old artist who constantly gave me headaches during the interview by venturing into subjects like martial arts, power lifting, drama, music and modelling. He was indeed a man for all seasons. He is yet another individual featured in the series who has performed despite not having had a university education.
He was the black sheep of the family. He said he is a visual learner. He knew well what he could obtain from his alma mater Trinity College Kandy. But the school probably didn’t have a clue as to what product it was putting out. “I refused to sit for my A Levels. Probably I had studied too much. It was a dark period. When I left school the most valuable thing that this institute had taught me was art,” said Amaresh who lives in Pamunuwa, Pilimatalawa.
In 1998 there was a bomb blast at the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth). Being a Christian he had the same sad feeling devotees had many centuries ago when Jesus Christ was crucified. “For me the bombing of this religious site was a violation of our culture. It was bad as raping one’s mother,” he opined.
Back then, his emotions ran haywire. But something lovely also happened. He channelled his energies via his paint brush. On the drawing paper appeared the temple on fire along with the destruction. In the painting he drew two eyes filled with tears. He also drew, on either side of painting, two hands that resemble the hands of Christ covered with blood. He named the painting ‘Burning Tears’ which he sold to an art collector. The bombing incident and the subsequent art he drew turned his world around. Since then he has earned a living through painting.
At present he lectures on art, serves as member of the jury at art competitions and does television talk shows on art. He had his last art exhibition in 2005 at the Barefoot Gallery.
I asked him how an artist knows when he is ready to have his first exhibition. He responded by saying it’s a good question. The thought that struck my mind immediately was whether the other questions posed to him by me had no value. Something told me not to mess with him because his bio data revealed he is a licensed Kung Fu instructor and a Black Belt holder in Karate. “How do you know? Well it’s like the fists of Bruce Lee automatically connecting with an opponent’s chin when there is an opening. After all, the years of practice the hand hits all by itself. It’s the same with art. With all the experience you just know when you are ready for an exhibition,” said Amaresh who has had three Individual Arts Exhibitions to date in venues like Alliance Francaise de Kandy (2000 and 2001) and Barefoot Gallery (2005).
His art teacher in school, Mahinda Somasiri, taught him not to use plain black. He also taught Amaresh the method of doing transparent art. But he saw different shades in the art through the teachings of his next art teacher Prof. Ashley Halpe. “Prof. Halpe taught me not to use plain colours. He told me to mix colours. I was also taught not to draw art to fulfil a style, but to do it with the view of bringing out something,” he said.
He draws regularly and sells his art to buyers. He is not the happiest with regard to the price his creations fetch him. What sort of future does he see for himself? “Being a staunch Christian I have faith that God will give me a bright future,” he said.
He said that music has the potential to influence, but added that art in comparison must be meaningful. Talking to him I could gather that art has helped him find the meaning of life. “I live for others through art,” Amaresh confessed.