If you are an art lover and attending art exhibitions, are an integral part of your cultural lifestyle, then you may have surely stumbled across paintings by the Impressionist Ishan Senaka Hewage.
Ishan Hewage has been a painter ever since he can remember. Although he never inherited fortunes or skills from his ancestors, his parents encouraged him to draw from his childhood. He learnt and earned his skills in art by trial and error, following the works of great teachers. He recalls his first art teacher in school, Padma Paulis, with great gratitude as she saw an artist in little Ishan and also recognised his childhood artistic inclinations and the inner desire to become an artist.
She encouraged him to improve his basic skills in drawing. His understanding parents too guided him to the famous watercolour artist at that time, Kalabushana Susil Premaratne where he learnt and sharpened his skills in watercolours. Ishan was exposed to many veteran artists’ paintings at Susil Premaratne’s art workshop and he was mesmerised by G S Fernando’s watercolour paintings the most. With time Ishan gradually gained maturity under the guidance of Premaratne who encouraged him to turn out beautiful watercolour paintings.
Ishan makes use of a vivid, range of colours and his dreamlike fluid style captures the essence of his imaginary world which is much closer to reality. The more one sees of Ishan’s watercolour paintings the more one realises the artist’s multifaceted ability in the use of his chosen medium. While his work has a wide variety of designs, landscapes, wildlife and birds, he mostly captures the spirituality and the calmness of life in his paintings, and minimalism is the key factor in his artistic expression.
Having decades of experience working with various newspapers as a cartoonist and a comic artist, Ishan got the opportunity to meet veteran comic artists who had made a name in the field of picture stories such as Bandula Harischandra, Daya Rajapakse and Janaka Rathnayaka. The evolvement of his style in picture stories has been highly influenced by these artists’ works and he has done dozens of picture stories which were extremely popular among readers. His works were exhibited by the Jathika Chithrakala Padanama at the National Art Gallery along with reputed artists in the field of picture stories at that time.
Speaking about his obsession with watercolours he says, “I love watercolours because it is fast, and the effects are so different from acrylic or oil. It is a direct medium, you have to allow water to move and mix your colours on the paper without hesitancy. The transparency of the medium is unique and I believe watercolours are the best medium to express nature and spirituality. Although some artists hold watercolours in low esteem asserting that it is the easiest medium to handle in painting, I do not agree. It is one of the most difficult mediums to handle due to its fluidity. In the watercolour medium there’s no room for corrections. You have to have extra patience to handle this medium. Therefore, it is a meditation for me to work with this medium.”
Although Ishan is known for his ability in watercolours, he has dipped his brush in oils and acrylic too. Explaining his process of work, Ishan says he spends more hours thinking than painting. It takes time for him to decide the colours and techniques that will be perfect for the visualisation of his idea. As composition is the most important rule in the form of art, and as a painter Ishan is quite keen on composition. As his paintings are mainly on realistic sceneries, many of them are based on photographs and he believes that transitioning from the immediacy of photography to composing a painting is very different.
“Being a painter I have the luxury of taking the original photograph and modifying it the way I want. A painting should not necessarily look identical to a photograph because they are two different art forms. However, I don’t depend on photographs all the time but I paint the scenes I observe and retrieve them the way they register in my mind,” Ishan said.
Unlike other collaborative arts, it is typically the fate of an artist to work alone in his own imaginary world, isolated from the entire world. Therefore, artists’ alienation is a frequent theme throughout the history of art. Being a professional artist for nearly three decades, Ishan feels that similar to the painting process of an artist, art as a subject has an isolated stance in society. He believes it is mainly due to the lack of knowledge of art appreciation. “In Sri Lanka we have a very limited market for art. The majority of people don’t have a proper knowledge about art.
Therefore, they don’t know the value of it. It is really hard to value a painting and to sustain a living as a full time artist is a challenge,” Ishan added.