Ruwan Prasanna’s Abstractions of Nature Pulsate with Colour
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Born in the Sri Lankan coastal village of Galle, Prasanna studied Fine Arts at the University of Kelaniya in Colombo, once known as the 'garden city of the east' and now the most populated city in Sri Lanka, before pursuing a career in advertising while continuing to paint.
One of few abstract painters in Sri Lanka, Prasanna first presented his acrylic works at the Kala Pola Art Market in Colombo in 2004. What followed was the development of the painter's first series 'Unknown Birds' (2009–2013)—bright outlines of scattered feathers emulating blurred avian forms mid-flight.
First shown at Paradise Road Galleries in 2010, Prasanna's 'Unknown Birds' paintings feature an avalanche of colours—yellow, amber, blue, and white—intercepted by the abstracted, bird-like forms and organic shapes.
The series explores the ephemeral nature of movement, expanded into a single moment in time, as would later acrylic on canvas paintings like Landscape XVIII (2015), where explosive floral arrangements echo abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell's bursting paintings.
'I feel that Joan Mitchell's style is a combination of Paul Cézanne's and Claude Monet's inspirations,' the artist told Ocula Magazine, who appreciates both artists for their engagement with the natural world, realistic or abstracted.
Indeed, while decorative and 'politically conceptual' works are still preferred over abstraction in Sri Lanka, Prasanna feels no need to follow trend or tradition. For the painter, the canvas remains a place to elaborate on inner thoughts and sentiments.
Nature's immanence—of inherently existing within the dynamic order of things—returns across Prasanna's large-scale canvases. The early 'Landscape' series (2014) set the tone for atmospheric paintings to follow, always with the same emphasis on light, and increasingly veering into abstraction.
Dense speckles of colour rendered in rhythmic strokes draw out time in 'Komorebi' (2017), a multi-panel series depicting the gradual stages of sunset, followed by 'Twilight' (2019), in which thick splatters of burgundy and pixelated violets are aggregated into dusk.
Frequently taking months to complete, each of the artist's paintings draws from the feeling of the moment—they are only deemed complete as the excitement to paint lessens. Vivid scenes reproduced from memory are often painted at night—a habit developed since the birth of the artist's young daughter.
Through vibrant strokes and bright palettes, the elusive passage of a morning is rendered as a celebration.
In subsequent paintings like Aluyama X (2021), the layered appearance of short strokes in red, green, yellow, and blue renders scenes as if viewed through a prism, with dashes of saturated red and blue pulsating past cold yellows and greens, hinting at beauty unsighted.
The work is among the 20 paintings comprising Aluyama at Saskia Fernando Gallery (11 November–11 December 2021). Aluyama translates to 'dawn', and in keeping there is a sense that something new is emerging in every stroke.
The artist locates in the early morning hours something at once 'soothing' and 'hopeful'—akin to a soft rejuvenation—and Aluyama IX (2021), a whirlwind of pink petals congregating at the bottom of a vertical canvas, reiterates this state. Through vibrant strokes and bright palettes, the elusive passage of morning is rendered a fluttering celebration.
But while a continuation of Prasanna's pointed studies of light retains the artist's focus on abstraction, motifs from 19th-century European landscape painting are integrated across each canvas.
Bright palettes evoking Van Gogh's swirling haystacks and Sunflowers (1899) are prevalent in the acrylic on canvas Aluyama I (2021), where whirls of burnt orange congregate with cool greens and blazing yellows, gesturing towards a quiet and bursting dance of petals.
Echoes of Claude Monet's Water Lilies (1840–1926) can be found in the oil on canvas works Aluyama XIII (2021), a sea of dark mauves and pastel pinks punctuated by flickers of yellow and green, and Aluyama XV (2021), a juniper curtain hovering over slashes of frost blue, red, and yellow.
Prasanna's predominant use of primary and complementary palettes evokes the influence of Piet Mondrian, but devoid of the utopian, modernist hard edges. Prasanna's return to the essence of colour and shape does not attempt to segment and reorder the natural world, but rather seeks to express an appreciation of its dynamism.
Inverting the conventions of landscape painting, light sweeps across the canvas from the bottom in Aluyama XII (2021)—an explosion of bright canary against speckles of mandarin orange and greens, seemingly expanding beyond the canvas.
Further abstracted, diptychs like Aluyama XXI (2021) introduce opposing narratives across separate panels showing lush landscapes rendered in fairy-tale cascades of lavender, ceylon, and pine.
Saturated yet quiet, Prasanna's abundant landscapes never set out to generate stark contradictions. Rather, vivid progressions defy rational expectations to venerate the inception of new beginnings.
Take Aluyama XI (2021), a diptych that resembles pages from a storybook unfolding to reveal thick curtains of crimson and pine, their swirls forming elusive impressions grounded in a single moment. —[O]