Tissa Ranasinghe (1950 - 2011)

“Tissa’s work is open to numberless interpretations. It is not only Buddhist, or Asian, or religious. It is universal and timeless, and the thoughtful viewer may find all sorts of meanings in it that I have missed. Real art is not ‘art for art’s sake’, nor for moral or social improvement. It is a magic mirror in which one can see the most extraordinary things, some nice, some nasty, all vital to our understanding of what it means to be human.” - Michael Wright

Tissa Ranasinghe is a Sri Lankan sculptor who was born in 1925 in the village of Yogiyana. He is an artist who has more than half a century of experience in sculpture using materials such as wood and bronze, dealing predominantly with religious themes. He refers to bronze as his preferred medium because “bronze lasts for years”, allowing him to leave behind a legacy.

Ranasinghe’s sculptures that deal with religion and myth have predominantly Buddhist and Hindu origins, and indicate a deep understanding of the philosophy behind each religion and the manner in which they can be incorporated into the daily lives of people. He has also been unafraid to reinterpret concepts and stories associated with the religions he works with to suit the modernity and the modern condition. Human beings often share a tense and uneasy relationship with the practice of faith, and Ranasinghe’s work become these embodied sculptural expressions of tension. 

The sculpture “Self-mortification” (1965) is a rendition of Lord Buddha during the six years of fasting under extreme conditions. The sculpture is a tribute to Lord Buddha’s resilience, while it also reminds the viewer that enlightenment can only be achieved by surviving eternal suffering and pain. It is clear that Ranasinghe is an artist dedicated to delineating religion as a struggle and a desperate encounter with one’s own fears, weaknesses and innermost desires that delay enlightenment. “Self-mortification” was later installed and sealed in the relic chamber of the restored Somawathiya Stupa in Sri Lanka. A bronze sculpture entitled “The Enlightenment” was presented to the King of Thailand on his 60th birthday in 1987. This sculpture is again one that highlights the inner perturbation in Prince Siddhartha before he achieved enlightenment, an experience during which external troubles became almost insignificant. 

Ranasinghe received his primary and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo, and went on to study Painting at the College of Fine Arts in Colombo (now the University of Visual and Performing Arts) in 1949. He later earned a Diploma in Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art in London followed by a Certificate in Bronze Casting from the Royal College of Art in London. He was the first to receive the UNESCO Fellowship allocated to Sri Lanka under the Creative Artists Scheme in 1958. After widely exhibiting his works in London and several other cities in Europe, he returned to Sri Lanka and taught at the College of Fine Arts and the Institute of Practical Technology in Katubedda (which is now the University of Moratuwa). From 1970-71 he was the Principal of the University of Visual and Performing Arts, which was then the Government College of Art and Art Crafts. Once he went to back to the United Kingdom he taught at the Royal College of Art, and continues to work to-date from his studio based in southwest London. His sculptures can be found in many private and public collections in Sri Lanka, UK, Sweden, Greece, USA, Australia, France and Germany. Some of his most prominent sculptures were made for/in memoriam of those who served in the government in Sri Lanka, including former Prime Ministers D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sir John Kotelawala and former Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. 

In 1984, Ranasinghe was commissioned by Prof. Gananath Obeysekere, the then Head of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University, New Jersey, USA, to create a sculpture that was entitled “Kannagi”. It depicts the legendary Hindu woman who is celebrated for her strength and bravery in a novel light as one that is deserving of worship as Goddess Pattini as she is now known to be. He has consistently revisited and reinterpreted the figures of the Garuda and the bull, alongside sculptures that portray other themes such as androgyny, folklore and human experience in general. For example, “Mithuna II” (2002) is one that delves into romance, with two lovers entangled together expressing sentiments of love. 

In his latter years, his personal mythology or philosophy about religion becomes more evident, as Smriti Daniel points out in The Sunday Times about his 2007 exhibition of bronze sculptures: “in the current set, while some figures such as the half man, half bird Garuda itself are instantly recognizable others are drawn from the sculptor’s personal mythology. Yet others present no recognizable form and are simply fluid and essentially mysterious. In keeping with his reputation, his style continues to merge key elements of the Sri Lankan sculptural tradition with a more contemporary Western aesthetic.” His years of expertise in the international art context merged with his original Sri Lankan identity have been able to successfully produce a unique aesthetic that Ranasinghe can call his own. This uniqueness, although born from oriental origins have a sense of universality that can appeal to masses around the world about religion, philosophy and spirituality.

In 1987 Ranasinghe received the Kala Suri Award, the highest achievement an artist can receive in Sri Lanka from the President, and in 1989 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Art. Ranasinghe is a source of inspiration for many young sculptors and artists of the generations that follow him. 

Name of Exhibition Year Place
Exhibition of Sculptures 2011 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Exhibition of Bronze Sculptures 2007 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Exhibition of Sculptures 2003 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Expo ‘67 1965 Montreal, Canada
Sao Paulo Biennale 1963 São Paulo, Brazil
Edinburgh Festival, Commonwealth Exhibition of Art 1962 Edinburgh, UK
Exhibition of Sculptures 1959 Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
2500 Years of Buddhist Art Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations Exhibition 1956 French Institute, London, UK
Artists from the Commonwealth 1955 Imperial Institute, London, UK
Summer Salon – Royal Institute Galleries 1954 London, UK
Chelsea School of Art – Annual Exhibition 1954 London, UK
Royal Society of British Artists – Annual Exhibition 1954 London, UK
Artists of Chelsea Exhibition 1954 London, UK
Ceylon Society of Arts – 54th Competitive Exhibition 1952 National Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ceylon Society of Arts – 53rd Competitive Exhibition 1951 National Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ceylon Society of Arts – 52nd Competitive Exhibition 1950 National Art Gallery, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Other Publicaitons the Artist has been mentioned in

Name of Book Year of Publication Author Printer

Ref :TR 3

Title :Peacock & Rider

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :42.5 X 36

Ref :TR 4

Title :Garuda

Measurements in Cms :60.5 X 31

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :60.5 X 31

Ref :TR 5

Title :The Rich & Poor

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Ref :TR 9

Title :The Dancer

Measurements in Cms :66.5 X 41

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :66.5 X 41

Ref :TR 19

Title :Single Nude

Signed :Lower Right

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :28 X 15

Ref :TR 20

Title :3 Monks

Signed :Lower Right

Year :1958

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :23 X 19

Ref :TR 21

Title :2 Nudes

Signed :Lower Middle

Year :1957

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :30 X 22

Ref :TR 27

Title :Visvakarama

Measurements in Cms :183 X 60

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :183 X 60

Ref :TR 30

Title :Dushkara Kriya

Measurements in Cms :87 X 67

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :87 X 67

Ref :TR 31

Title :Dancer

Measurements in Cms :90 X 85

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :90 X 85

Ref :TR 34

Title :Standing Female Nude

Signed :Lower Right

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :24.5 X 12.5

Ref :TR 35

Title :Seated Women

Signed :Lower Right

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :26 X 17

Ref :TR 36

Title :Seated Nude

Signed :Lower Right

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :25 X 18

Ref :TR 37

Title :The Artist

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Ink on Paper

Dimensions in Cms. :17.5 X 19

Ref :TR 38

Title :Penance

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :38.5 x 25 x 18

Ref :TR 39

Title :Penance

Measurements in Cms :36 x 21.5 x 15.5

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :36 x 21.5 x 15.5

Ref :TR 40

Title :Penance

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :30.5 x 28.5 x 32

Ref :TR 41

Title :Durga

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :37.5 x 42.5 x 19

Ref :TR 42

Title :Buddha

Measurements in Cms :52 X 42 X 36

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :52 X 42 X 36

Ref :TR 43

Title :Ganga

Signed :On Base

Year :2007

Measurements in Cms :42.5 x 25 x18

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :42.5 x 25 x18

Ref :TR 44

Title :Garuda

Signed :On Base

Year :2006

Measurements in Cms :37.5 x 22 x 15

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :37.5 x 22 x 15

Ref :TR 45

Title :Garuda

Measurements in Cms :-

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :37.5 x 34 x 16

Ref :TR 49

Title :Two Close To The Sun

Measurements in Cms :40 x 39.5

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :40 x 39.5

Ref :TR 50

Title :The Struggle

Measurements in Cms :17 x 30.5 x 20

Material Used :Bronze

Dimensions in Cms. :17 x 30.5 x 20

Year Institute Qualification
1949-1952 Government College of Fine Arts, Colombo, Sri Lanka Diploma in Painting
1954-1958 Chelsea School of Art, London, UK Diploma in Sculpture
1961-1963 Royal College of Art, London, UK Certificate in Bronze Casting