The first paint brush I held was given to me by my grandfather. We painted snakes on the bark of coconut trees with paint derived from used car engine oil, as the afternoon sun graced us. This was to prevent insects from destroying the tree.
Aleveddi in Jaffna Peninsula heard my first cries on this earth, my grandfather’s connection to nature, his humour and my travels throughout this planet have influenced the way in which I see the world. As the oldest grandson, I had the privilege of spending many hours on his farmstead. I watched him tend to his plants, whether they be banana, mango, jackfruit, grapes, palmyra or paddy fields as he taught me how to incorporate nature and the surrounding landscape into my drawings. The combination of value given to art at Mahajana College, it’s art teacher and specific classroom dedicated to art solidified the foundation for my art. The varieties of ways in which nature has arranged colour in fish, butterflies and birds have always found their way onto my drawing paper. My father bound drawing books for me. They have all been lost during the civil war and displacement. Personally, this is equivalent to the burning of the Jaffna Library in 1981. I left my green village for the last time without hopes, but full of thoughts.
My mother, as the civil war percolated, was smart enough to send me to live in Colombo with my father at thirteen. In Colombo, I discovered fashion, a new language, culture and cityscape. The freedom to travel on a bus in Colombo was alien to me. Nevertheless, this was a new experience for a boy used to riding a bicycle in the streets of my village. People watching on public transit translated into my art. Fashion and archaeological cities allowed me to expand my art. For the first time, I was exposed to independent street artists, as well as art on an international stage. I discovered Fresco paintings and Batik. Particularly the paintings of mythical female figures in Sigirya of Apsaras had a significant impact on my art. I experimented further with watercolour.
Island of Cyprus and it’s energy felt like my second mother land. I was eighteen and homesick and subconsciously found solace in art. In Cyprus, I was introduced to Greek, in terms of both the language and culture, it’s archeology and new landscape. I travelled to Israel and Egypt while living in Cyprus. This gave me a deeper understanding of the Mediterranean civilization. Naturally, these new ideas and concepts found their way into my paintings. The Mediterrainan sea with its migrant birds, it’s surrounding olive and fig trees will always be my muse.
A friend of mine, who both modelled for a group of artists and worked in an olive factory introduced me to Glyn Hughes in Nicosia, a Welshman who was a modern painter and art critic. I had never before seen an artist who could afford to work independently with a model. I showed up at Glyn Hughes’ doorstep. The manner in which he treated his fellow man, whether friend or foe, taught me invaluable lessons. Though, we were from the opposite ends of the world, art was our common denominator. He took the initiative to admit me to an art school in order to develop my understanding of figurative and portrait painting. Hughes was instrumental in a group exhibition I participated in 1997. As a result, I identified as an artist for the first time.
“If you want to continue painting, go to Paris,” these were Hughes' words to me as I struggled to determine where to put down my feet on a permanent land. Upon my arrival in France, I had the pleasure of working in Ile De Re, a beautiful coastal town on the Atlantic ocean. Like myself, both migratory and native birds danced on this island. The beaches were adorned with female nudists and birds that I had never seen. I would sit there and do many sketches with models free of charge.
Returning to Paris from Il de Re, my life was monastic in the sense that I had only lived in islands. The early days as a refugee in Paris were difficult. I felt like a piece of salt being thrown back into the ocean. My claim for refugee status was denied four times. I held a handful of exhibitions during this time. After years of struggle, my first exhibition in 2004 was titled “No Name, No Face.”
2009 May witnessed the culmination of years of civil war in my homeland with genocide. Simultaneously, I received a letter inviting me for an interview to attempt to obtain asylum as a refugee. This was to be my final endeavour to build a life in France. As my people were suffering, I too agonized; deciphering through our collective desperation gave birth to painting “faces and masks”. Farmers in my village sow seeds of paddy in red soil, then uproot and replant them in black soil. This procedure ensures their growth. This mimicked my refugee life. Irregardless of the myriad of challenges I faced, every phone conversation with Hughes’ ended with “think about painting.” I held a solo exhibition at a renowned municipality council titled “HanUMAN’s Dancing Brush.”
“La Couleur de l’exil” was held in 2010, ten years after struggling to establish a permanent home in France. The spirit of the paintings at this exhibition was a testament to the trials leading up to that point and the joy of a sense of belonging.
The entrance of my son Nadiyaan - நதியான் into this world forced me to examine my art on a level that was unbeknownst to me. I wanted to teach him his heritage, and the only way I knew was through my art and food. Each year on his birthday, we make a painting together using his feet that I include in the series “Identity.” “Life is full of surprises,” is what I refer to one of my paintings. I have given great thought to the titles associated with my paintings and exhibitions. Mostly influenced by my life, my people’s situation, nature, culture and travel.
I held my first online "live exhibition” titled “Think about Painting” during the pandemic and was pleasantly surprised by its success. The lockdown period has contributed to the evolution of my canvas.
Via Jaffna, Colombo, Nicosia and Paris, this journey, with my signature, has given me the ability to push the boundaries of art. My fingers and paint continue to dance on the canvas.
Mr.Glyn HUGHES (1931-2014 Painter and an art critic ) and I at Gare du Nord - Paris, in Oct 2009. He came from Nicosia to the opening of the exhibition 'Hanuman's Dancing Brush' at Mairie de Bondy.
Mr.Glyn HUGHES (1931-2014 Peintre et critique d'art) et moi à la Gare du Nord - Paris, en octobre 2009. Il est venu de Nicosie pour l'inauguration de l'exposition 'Hanuman's Dancing Brush' à la Mairie de Bondy.
my family in late 80's at Front of our sweet home. since i left 1990 i never returns back.
(Ma famille à la fin des années 80 à l'avant de notre 'sweet home'. Depuis que j'ai quitté 1990, je ne retourne jamais. )
Family photo 2012 Paris - photo Ahilan Kathirgamathamby
Expose au Swiss Village - Paris 15, avec ' Art Freedom ' crédit photo - P.Patric
Expose au @ Grand Palais 'Art Capital' 2018. crédit photo - Pierre LESENEY