Neville Weereratne was an artist, journalist and author who referred to himself as a “second generation member” of the ‘43 Group of Sri Lanka that ignited the contemporary and modernist art scene in the country. During the latter years of his life, Weereratne also penned a significant amount of literature on the history of art in Sri Lanka, especially on Justin Daraniyagala, Richard Gabriel and Tissa Ranasinghe, as well as overviews of the ‘43 Group. He passed away in Melbourne on January 3, 2018. Weereratne’s portfolio of work is unique in that it comprises a range of work: oil on canvas paintings, illustrations for books as well as drawings done for local newspapers. Despite differences in the form each artwork takes, a characteristic that runs across his body of work is the capturing of human relationships over focus placed on a single individual.
A student at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo in the 1940s, Weereratne studied art under Richard Gabriel, one of the founding members of the ‘43 Group. He first exhibited his work alongside other members of the Group in 1952 in London, and continued to support the Group organising regular international exhibitions with Ranjit Fernando. Although he moved to Australia with his wife Sybil Keyt in the early 1970s, they often visited Sri Lanka and had a series of exhibitions together at the Barefoot Gallery (previously known as Gallery 706). Weereratne’s work can be found in permanent collections around the world, including Sri Lanka, India, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and USA.
Tony Donaldson contemplates on Weereratne’s work as follows: “Neville drew subjects from everyday experiences – fruit sellers, village girls, lovers, outrigger canoes, musicians, dancers, and family scenes. He was attracted to water pots, stray dogs and Buddhist monks because they were so much a part of the Sri Lankan landscape that he found it impossible to avoid these subjects in his art.” Creativity was not a mere exercise of the mind for Weereratne, it was a facilitation of engagement with the world and its subjects around him. Landscapes of bold, vibrant colours such as red, orange, green, blue and yellow surround the figures in his paintings, giving them a distinctive quality made to effect changes in the beholder’s mood and emotions.
While he was interested in creating art, his works were not as politically charged as those of some other members of the ‘43 Group. His aim was to capture certain universal themes and feelings associated with being a Sri Lankan, and therefore often painted persons with blank expressions because he, by his own admission, did not know who they were. Thus, he adopted a distinct style defying recognisability, and chose not to paint portraits of specific personalities like certain artists including Aubrey Collette, Harry Pieris and Lionel Wendt of the ‘43 Group did.
In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2010 Weereratne acknowledged that despite his decision to leave Sri Lanka and migrate to Australia, he has “always been deeply attached to Sri Lanka, its traditions, its people, its landscape, the culture.”
“I took it with me. I draw on my memories of this, of my childhood, my youth.”
|Name of Exhibition||Year||Place|
|Retrospective Exhibition||1967||Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt||1991||Highway Gallery, Melbourne, Australia|
|Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt||1993||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt||1999||Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt|
|Joint Exhibition with Sybil Keyt||2002||Barefoot Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Recent Paintings and Drawings by Sybil Keyt and Neville Weereratne||2004||Gallery 706, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Name of Book||Year of Publication||Author||Printer|
|43 Group: A Chronicle of Fifty Years in the Art of Sri Lanka (with Dominic Sansoni)||1993||Lantana Publishing, London, UK|
|The Art of Richard Gabriel||1999||Moosajees, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Visions of an Island: Rare works from Sri Lanka in the Christopher Ondaatje Collection||1999||HarperCollins, New York, USA|
|George Beven: a Life in Art||2004||Amici Dance Theatre Company, London, UK|
|The Sapumal Foundation Collection: A Select Catalogue||2009||The Sapumal Foundation, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|Justin Deraniyagala: Oil Paintings||2011||Arjun Deraniyagala, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|The Sculpture of Tissa Ranasinghe||2013||The National Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
|The Artist in Every Child: The Legacy of Cora Abraham||2015||Cora Abraham Art Classes, Colombo, Sri Lanka|
Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in
|Name of Documentary||Year of Production|