de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). Rendering Birds onto Paper. Serendipity. December 2004. Page 8.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne visits Talangama with a promising young artist
A musical burble, reminiscent of glass marbles being rubbed together, drew our attention to the wires overhead. A Pair of Ceylon Swallows were consorting. They have recently been re-classified as one of thirty three species of bird endemic to Sri Lanka . This made it all the more satisfying to see them in the Talangama Wetland, so close to Colombo . With me was Hasitha Kumarage, a talented young wildlife artist. I had come with him to introduce him to one of the best sites close to the heart of Colombo an aspiring artist or naturalist could make acquaintance with.
Hasitha had recently held his first art exhibition at the Harold Peiris Gallery at the Lionel Wendt. I had been impressed by his ability to absorb and execute a range of styles. This is important if an artist is not to get into a rut. With a varied subject like natural history, a variety of styles can also be appropriate as different subjects and different purposes to the art requires a different style of execution. Some of his art was reminiscent of British masters such as Eric Ennion, who painted the bird faithfully, but nevertheless injected atmosphere. There were other pieces where no effort had been made to show the bird exactly. An Orange-headed Thrush, in the foreground of a forest undergrowth was an example. The bird was executed confidently, without a pre-occupation to detail or exactness of proportion. It was primarily art for the sake of art, but borrowed heavily from a real subject. I liked this, as sometimes wildlife artists are too pre-occupied with detail and then lose the soul of their subject.
His black and whites were also very good. They worked well as art. Hasitha confessed to me that the Peregrine Falcon’s barring was not quite right. But it did not matter as a piece of art. Had it been done for a book on birds, then it would have mattered. The combination of art which was faithful to the subject and others which are simply borrowed for artistic expression was one which gladdened me. I hope he will maintain these twin styles. In Europe, in the last decade or so, there has been a pronounced shift away from the realism school of art, epitomized by many American painters, to a more loose style. British artists such as Greg Poole use collages and other mechanisms to create wildlife art which are more abstract in execution, but underpinned by real subjects and actual observation in the field. I hope Hasitha will also contribute to the development of such a move in Sri Lanka .
In Talangama, we hoped to see the subjects in the wild and be inspired to capture the spirit of the place. I endeavored to do this with my camera and Hasitha with his sketch pad. We had chosen a good day for atmosphere as the wetland was covered in a pall of mist, the heaviest I had ever seen. I framed a Little Cormorant on a gaunt, dead tree, against a white background. Hasitha began sketching some migratory Snipe. His sketch pad began to fill up with Barn Swallows and a Yellow Bittern. He was sketching loosely to catch the impression or ‘jizz’ of a bird. The relative lengths of the wings against the tail, in different postures and so on. The Yellow Bittern made and held a number of awkward postures as it clambered stealthily along the sedges lining the water. Hasitha attempted to catch its slow motion perambulations through the vegetation.
Hasitha is still very young, aged twenty three years. He is doing a course in Management Studies at the Informatix Institute, on a program affiliated to the University of Manchester . The wetlands in and around Colombo such as Talangama will give him ample opportunities to develop his wildlife art, whilst balancing his studies. The close proximity of the wetlands to his home at Kotte means he will not need to undertake time consuming journeys far out of Colombo . The same principle applies to the school children who are now being brought in by their teachers to Talangama. Together with the Kotte Marshes and possible a rejuvenated Beira Lake , the capital’s school children need not venture far out to learn about wetlands and their wildlife.
The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Luxury Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.