LAKI SENANAYAKE (1937)

“Today’s artists are expected to restrict themselves to a single medium, a single style, a single theme. They are expected to be deadly serious about their work, to struggle with big intellectual issues and to express their own inner emotions. Laki’s reputation suffers from the fact that he enjoys his work, that his art is suffused with wit and that he seeks to give pleasure to his public. However, he deserves to be recognized as one of the most important and significant Sri Lankan artists of the post-independence period.” – C. Anjalendran in collaboration with David Robson

Laki Senanayake is an artist and architect who grew up in Madampe in the Northwestern Province of Sri Lanka, and later developed his artistic capabilities in Colombo and various other areas of the country. Senanayake had an interest in the arts since he was a child, and he fondly refers to the fact that his family accepted him for pursuing art as a career alongside his “wayward behaviour”. He is one of a rare group of artists to have become a household name through years of practice and experience despite the lack of academic qualifications. He studied art in his early years under renowned painter Stanley Abeysinghe, and was later enrolled as an architect at the firm Billimoria and De Silva, Pieris and Panditharatne. He refers to this as the beginning of his career as an architect and artist although he was thrust into it “by circumstance”. After a difficult exit from the firm following his open comments about the low pay of his fellow colleagues, Senanayake started working with architects Valentine Gunasekara, Geoffrey Bawa and UlrikPlesner at Edwards Reids and Begg, the leading architectural firm in Colombo during the 1950s. Since gaining momentum through architecture, he has transformed into one of the most versatile artists and designers in Sri Lanka, having worked prolifically in various arenas including sculpture, visual art, currency design, landscape gardening, building design and poetry. 

 

As an artist, Senanayake is someone who has unconventional notions about art. On his blog he states that “he believes that the current art market is a racket like the financial market, and is based on the capitalist notion of valuing property over human welfare and happiness.” He also “believes the social value of art lies in it being a widespread activity, and not in being a passive and vicarious entertainment as can be seen in the sports and music of our time.” He is known to immerse himself in the environment, away from materialistic and commercial pursuits. His friends Anjalendran and David Robson describe him as follows: “often bare-bodied, or wearing a stringy sleeveless banyan with a sarong of vibrant color, with flute in hand, a satchel over his shoulder, full of smiles, and looking casual, yet about him an air of quiet distinction… this is Laki the artist. He has more than once been taken into custody on suspicions aroused by his unconventional appearance, though his reputation as an artist soon ensures his release.”

Senanayake’s passion project was his retreat “Diyabubula”, located in Dambulla where he is permanently stationed. The site comprises of a house on a pavilion built on a platform of timber, supported by timber piers over a large boulder. 100-year-old railway sleepers were used as the basic material for the building, which is surrounded by a water garden quenched by a nearby fresh water spring. The site is now a growing tourist attraction, allowing visitors to engage with nature in a homely atmosphere facilitated by Senanayake’s clever usage and hand-crafting of local, naturally sourced material. His architectural aesthetic is bohemian, seemingly effortless and close to nature. In terms of visual art, Senanayake has experimented with many distinct mediums including acrylic, oil paints, screen printing, erotic art and water colours. His paintings are exceptionally bright and colourful, designed to please the eye of the beholder. It is evident in each work that the artist has had an enjoyable experience creating it, and that he wants convey a similar sentiment to please his audience. His sculptures have also received widespread attention; a chandelier of silver palm fronds hanging at the center of the debating chamber at the Parliament complex at Sri JayawardenapuraKotte, for example. He also created a large brass peacock for the Bentota Beach Hotel and several brass palm and plaster reliefs for the Neptune Hotel in Bentota. Two of his well-known sculptures that portray owls are stationed at Barefoot Gallery and Cafe in Colombo, garnering much deserved attention from visitors. Under the guidance of Bawa, Senanayake also created sculptures for the Heritance Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla and the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle, with the latter depicting life-sized Sinhalese and Portuguese soldiers engaged in battle at Raddeniya, while the Sinhalese King looks upon them from his throne playing the flute. Overall, Senanayake’s sculptures are fascinating as they are manifestations of nature that simultaneously attempt commentary on the historical and cultural situation of Sri Lanka. 

 

In 2018, Senanayake’s works on landscape gardens were presented in an exhibition titled The Greedy Forest, curated by Max Moya and photographed by Luka Alagiyawanna. This is one of the rare instances in which his works were displayed to the public in the form of an exhibition. The exhibition was again advocating for the notion that man needs to become one with nature and reduce estrangement from the ecology that helps earth and humanity survive. 

 

He currently resides mainly at Diyabubula, and as Smriti Daniel puts it, “he spends his days watching the forest live around him, taking long naps and creating his beautiful paintings and sculptures with seeming ease. If occasionally he sits down to lunch, only to find a trail of sightseers walking through his kitchen, seeming to wonder who he is, he takes it all in his stride. In more than one way, it is an enviable life.” 

Name of Exhibition Year Place

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Ref :LS 90

Title :Sinharaja

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1980

Measurements in Cms :75 x 55

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :75 x 55

Ref :LS 254

Title :Untitled

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :50.5 x 35.5

Material Used :Pastel on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :50.5 x 35.5

Ref :LS 303

Title :Abstract - Fx = 0

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1989

Measurements in Cms :54 x 39

Material Used :Pastel on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :54 x 39

Ref :LS 86

Title :Ganga

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1991

Measurements in Cms :31 x 22.5

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :31 x 22.5

Ref :LS 89

Title :Sinharaja

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1991

Measurements in Cms :32.5 x 23

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :32.5 x 23

Ref :LS 93

Title :Seated Figure

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1991

Measurements in Cms :58 x 34.5

Material Used :Pastel on Cloth

Dimensions in Cms. :58 x 34.5

Ref :LS 188

Title :Sinharaja

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1991

Measurements in Cms :34 x 24

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :34 x 24

Ref :LS 187

Title :Sinharaja

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1992

Measurements in Cms :22.5 x 30

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :22.5 x 30

Ref :LS 85

Title :Sinharaja

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1996

Measurements in Cms :30 x 23

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :30 x 23

Ref :LS 39

Title :The Ritual

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1999

Measurements in Cms :181 x 121.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :181 x 121.5

Ref :LS 92

Title :Moon on Pool

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1999

Measurements in Cms :153 x 153

Material Used :Acrylic & Screen Printing on Cloth

Dimensions in Cms. :153 x 153

Ref :LS 1

Title :Nude on Cadjan –Orlando

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2000

Measurements in Cms :73.5 x 100

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :73.5 x 100

Ref :LS 32

Title :Pasiphae & Bull

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2003

Measurements in Cms :120 x 170

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :120 x 170

Ref :LS 2 A/B/C

Title :Untitled (Triptych)

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :76 x 168.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :76 x 168.5

Ref :LS 9

Title :Symbols

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :30.5 x 40.5

Material Used :Water Colour on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :30.5 x 40.5

Ref :LS 41

Title :Nude in Motion

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :41 x 31

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :41 x 31

Ref :LS 46

Title :The Flutist

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :Water Colour on Paper

Material Used :46 x 60.5

Dimensions in Cms. :46 x 60.5

Ref :LS 64

Title :Standing Nude

Signed :Lower Left

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :60.5 x 50

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 x 50

Ref :LS 65

Title :The Paper Clip

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :76.5 x 61

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :76.5 x 61

Ref :LS 66

Title :The General

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :60 x 50.5

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :60 x 50.5

Ref :LS 70

Title :The Swami

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :100 x 76

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :100 x 76

Ref :LS 71

Title :The Scare Crow

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :76.5 x 101

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :76.5 x 101

Ref :LS 105

Title :Nude Boy

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :46 x 61

Material Used :Water Colour on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :46 x 61

Ref :LS 256

Title :The Bull

Signed :-

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :Height – 225 Diameter – 352 Length – 136 Width - 106

Material Used :Brass Sculpture

Dimensions in Cms. :Height – 225 Diamete

Ref :LS 204

Title :Heraldic Emblam

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :49.5 x 34.5

Dimensions in Cms. :49.5 x 34.5

Ref :LS 208

Title :Nude in Doorway

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :61 x 46

Material Used :Water Colour on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :61 x 46

Ref :LS 243

Title :Dry Zone Tree

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :22.5 x 30.5

Material Used :Water Colour on Card

Dimensions in Cms. :22.5 x 30.5

Ref :LS 250

Title :Doom Door

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2009

Measurements in Cms :124 x 202.5

Material Used :Brass, Wood, Rexene, Acrylic

Dimensions in Cms. :124 x 202.5

Ref :LS 259

Title :Pea Hen

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2010

Measurements in Cms :50.5 x 34.5

Material Used :Water Colour on Stiff Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :50.5 x 34.5

Ref :LS 311

Title :Untitled

Signed :Lower Right

Year :2011

Measurements in Cms :122 x 122

Material Used :Acrylic on Canvas

Dimensions in Cms. :122 x 122

Year Institute Qualification