To be credited with a little more than 100 exhibitions at a comparative young age of 51, to find a place of honour in the Delegates Lounge of the U.N. General Assembly in the capacity of a child artist to paint the mural there alongside the executed works of two major modern artists, to be born with a golden brush in hand, to have genes filtered from three generation of artists in a family and, to be affluent and politically affiliated, it is no surprise then that Senaka S enanayke, who is a child prodigy born in Colombo, Sri Lanka on March 20, 1951, is an internationally acclaimed artist today and has his distinct credentials established within the art circuit. Though a Sinhalese artist, Senaka is a household name in India. His various exhibitions across the important metros have established the visibility of his art. His style has resonance of traditional bias, but is simultaneously also naïve and utopian reflecting a spirited universality.
Senaka’s works are well-acknowledged globally, and it is a fitting tribute for the artist to have a monograph published on him. This book, Senaka, authored by Harsha Bhatkal gives detailed information about the artist from his childhood to the present. Written in a flowing narrative style and peppered with emotional and sentimental anecdotes, the book makes an interesting reading on the life and art of the artist. Each section of the book is titled to indicate a milestone in the life of Senaka’s artistic career: A Child Prodigy, Redeeming Early Promise, The Road Not Taken, A Dream Realized, Rain Forest and Soul Stuff, A Large Canvas, and the last part In Conversation.
The foreword written by D.P. Koppagoda and titled Style and Substance is a critical analysis of his style, which gives an insight into the making of Senaka’s visual language. It is articulated knowledgeably that clearly establishes the author’s close study and understanding of Senaka’s art. The approach is both formal and analytical opening up space to delve into the soul of the artist.
The rest of the chapters by Harsha Bhatkal are painted as a narrative account on the life of the artist. The language and the thoughts of the author flow fluidly and with ease making reading a pure pleasure. Harsha’s insightful reading of the artist also marks the emergence of a very humane dimension of Senaka’s character, particularly his generosity and nobility in creating gallery space for the local Sri Lankan artists who will have an opportunity to showcase their works, and which simultaneously would provide visibility to the public and hence patronisation.
The question that arises is: if publications of this quality and category are brought out, especially for an artist of Senaka’s stature, then it mandates critical writing methodology, which will yield important information, implying strategy for capturing and influencing the way people think and talk about art. Hence in addition to biographical details, which are equally essential, a critical write-up by a knowledgeable art historian/critic insightfully would have unravelled layers of meanings concealed in the works of Senaka. Through critical exploration, the aesthetics and politics of Senaka’s vision and his conceptual paradigm within the context of his culture would have elicited relevance, meaning and value of his art. While his paintings have become the most popular and compelling practice today, very little published material is available. The author should have endeavoured with this publication to explore themes of narrative and representation, landscape imagination and aesthetics.
The hardbound book has good colour reproductions on glossy paper, though the quality of the paper could have been better. It is of good size and interestingly planned in its design.
A good coffee-table production but it does gross injustice to an artist of Senaka’s significance and standing.