Channa Ekanayake is an artist who prefers to display his skills on canvas and refrain from placing his signature somewhere in his creation. The professional artist believes the beauty in creations done with paint and brush should reveal the beauty in art and conceal the artist.
I met him at his residence in Ethul Kotte where the noise of some construction work being done made me take an effort to introduce myself and then get ushered in. His home is an extremely quiet place where a good part of nature, which includes trees, has been retained by choice. “This is where I live and this is also my gallery,” said Channa who was a science teacher for many years before he retired prematurely to pursue his love for art.
He is another personality featured in the series Different Strokes who has made the grade in a chosen field despite not being a university product.
His drawings portray mostly ancient architecture, temples, women (in attire worn between the 15th and 18th century) and the relationship between man and woman. There is a painting of Lord Buddha which is a little different from the way other artists portray this enlightened being as someone with a halo and a stupendous physique. “Drawing Lord Buddha often brings a visual barrier. Artists make an attempt to give their figure of Lord Buddha incredible height and size. This is all an artist’s notion of making the Enlightened One perfect. I believe Lord Buddha looked normal like anyone of us. What was amazing was the doctrine he gave to the world. I must add that over the years of working as an artist I have observed that a person’s looks can be deceptive,” said the 51-year-old artist.
Channa was born in Hanguranketha and later moved to Colombo where he had his education at DS Senanayake College. He entered Teacher Training College and later taught in three schools (Collectively for 16 years) before the artist within told him to close the door on teaching and return to his childhood passion which is painting. He has sold art for a living since then and very recently displayed some of his creations at the exhibition titled Sri Lankan Art 2016, organized by the George Keyt Foundation and held at the Fine Arts Faculty in November.
He uses soft pastel, acrylic, oil and water colours in his creations. Sometimes he uses them all. “I don’t restrict myself to any medium. I do abstract art and present my art in 3D form when the need arises. I like to play with the surface and revolve my art around composition and arrangement,” he explained.
Channa participated in an art course conducted by Plate Ltd where the instructor was Dora Tomulic. However he terms himself a self-taught artist. “I didn’t want to make myself an academic in art. If I did that I would have been satisfied teaching art and probably would not have become a professional painter,” said Channa who lives with his wife and two daughters.
He keeps his art and the figures in them simple. He stressed the importance of retaining accepted shapes with regard to negotiating the negative space and positive objects. “When you do this, art is pleasing to the eye,” he said.
He did a solo exhibition in 2001 at the Harold Perera Gallery of Lionel Wendt. This saw the George Keyt Foundation extending an invitation to him to display his art at their exhibitions. He has been a regular exhibiter at exhibitions held for Sri Lankan artists since then.
Do artists experience periods where their output drops to zero? “Art can’t be produced like pieces coming out of a factory. An artist needs a process for storage. Then he begins again. During depressing times an artist must work hard towards improvement,” he explained.
Channa said that he doesn’t demand attention nor crave for recognition as an artist. He said that an artist needs to control his ego. “This is probably why artists who did work in temples many years ago never took credit for their work,” he said.
The former science teacher is settled in a world of art. Is he a happy artist? “We are okay till we paint, but when a painting finishes a vacuum is created. One can never be satisfied drawing art. That is why we draw again and again,” said this artist who added that he keeps going thanks to art and the sub-continental lifestyle he leads.