The jouissance of drafting | Sunday Observer

The jouissance of drafting

Drafting Desire is the latest collection of paintings by Sujith Rathnayake, one of the most reputed artists in Sri Lanka and is a series of works that pays homage to both the process and the joy of drafting. At a time when he feels that some of the fundamentals of the visual art skills are being overlooked in Sri Lanka, Sujith immerses himself in the natural rhythm, sound and feel of the drafting process. This exhibition is the result of his drafting jouissance.

The exhibition, now on at the Barefoot Gallery, will continue till October 10. The Sunday Observer recently spoke to Sujith Rathnayake about this exciting collection of art and his desire for painting.

Q. In your catalogue essay of your Drafting Desire exhibition, you specifically differentiate between drafting and drawing which advocates that it represents a substantial change of direction for you. How do you elaborate the difference between drafting and drawing?

A. In basic terms drawing refers to lines, shapes, finishes, sizes and colour combined to construct objects or structures. It will be a heavy task narrating an idea. Drafting refers to the creation of a drawing providing correct dimensions and it is the fundamental stage of a painting which shows the organic character and the skill of an artist. Drafting is a quick sketch with details but not a finished version of a painting. All the drafts are subjected to reviews, changes in the working progress which needs to be processed to form a complete painting. Drawing is the representation of our imagination of a model or object combined with the artistic notion of an artist. Drafting consists of dimensions but drawing doesn’t have any dimensions.

However, after the 1990s, the visual arts in Sri Lanka, were reduced to mere effects and concepts and became superfluous. It seems unnatural and contradictory.

This may be the reason why most contemporary artists do not reveal the path of their art. On the one hand, I wanted to re-explore the dynamics and emotions associated with the elements of visual art, in a context where visual art is dominated by semantic influences, and on the other hand, mere visual effects created by visual artists with the help of a group of people. As I explored ‘the line’ in my previous exhibition, in this exhibition I tried to highlight the visual drafting. Therefore, through Drafting Desire I actually wanted to go back to the fundamentals of art and mark my organic skill and identity as an artist.

When drawing with a piece of charcoal held in the hand, the natural rhythm of the person who’s doing it and the rhythm of the person’s trained hand as an artist are both being drafted on the surface of the canvas. This ‘drafting moment’ cannot be obtained from painting.

Nor is it something that can be obtained from multimedia materials. It is in the drawing.

Q. Can you elaborate on your thoughts about the relationship you had with improvisation while you were creating these paintings?

A. I see the whole process of painting as improvisation. The Drafting Desire series consisted of 30 paintings and it is an extension of my previous work. I keep improvising until it feels finished.

What I chose to do can be based more, or less, on the recent past of my work, the older past of my work, other art, other things of any sort that I have seen, thought, felt or experienced, and all of the above and often it is something that just pops into my mind and I try it out.

Manobranthi, my previous exhibition was based on socio-political subject matter and through the One line and Drafting Desire series I tried to bring out the technical aspect of the subject of art. Mostly, I try to let my unconscious guide my work, because there is much more in the unconscious than in the consciousness.

This is done via visual response to the unconscious momentum, not via psychological or literary analysis. I think artists have to practise this kind of response to get it naturally and fully, because the general course of education and modern art trends always tend to erase it from your abilities, though it is primary and primal.

It is also a broad experience of visual art denied by much academic criticism. This is because these writers simply do not understand, or see the visual and explain everything in art through literary, political, or literal approaches.

There are of course, writers who do understand the visual but they analyse art based on other subjects without having a proper understanding of the aesthetics of visual art.

Q. The works in Drafting Desire strikes me as an expression of your own inner conflicts. What feelings of conflict and or cooperation did you experience during the process of their creation?

A. Conflict or cooperation didn’t come into play, at least not in my conscious experience. I’m always weighing how well different things work.

There is also an ultimate negotiation, I guess you could call it, when you have to decide between whether to keep an amazing part of the picture, or sacrifice it in order to make the painting as a whole better.

This is a frequent occurrence with any artist I think. Overall, in my artistic career as to using varied abstract techniques, I see them as all part of my inheritance as an artist. It gives me the freedom to do what I can or do what I want.

My paintings are rarely driven by the concepts. But most of them are based on emotions. Concepts can be captured but emotions can’t. To feel it, you have to live in it.

Q. You are popular for your choice of colour which is black and white and your medium is mostly charcoal. Can you share your obsession with this choice of colours and medium?

A. Generally, black and white are my theme colours and I use charcoal, pencil, oil paints and I have used mixed media too in my art. My sense of colour comes from many sources. Firstly, I am sure there is a native colour sense that each person has and that is different.

When I enrolled for the degree at the University of Visual Arts in Colombo, I chose sculpture as my main subject. Sculpture is quite a technical subject.

Therefore, most of my drawings had the characteristics of sculpture. Drawings are mostly sketched in black on a white surface. Any sculptor visualises his/her sculpture in black and white 3D mode without colours, because sculpture is mainly based on shapes and not colours like paintings.

I used to draw my sketches using charcoal which led to the creation of an obsession within me unconsciously. And with time it was an artistic realisation to accept this sketch as my signature artistic expression.

Therefore, I think my choice of colours comes from an unconscious interaction that tells me what colour to use. However, I have mostly stuck to black and white which carries powerful feeling and meaning.

Q. Can you share the ways in which you perceive your art works as an aesthetic statement, and the ways in which you perceive it as the beginning of a conversation with viewers. Do you believe these works are in need of finishing by viewers?

A: Any art is an aesthetic statement. I think that is the whole of it. Anything else in it such as politics, literary ideas is sentiment and reduces or makes the art incomprehensible.

The emotion in a Vincent Van Gogh, for example, comes from the artist’s aesthetic skill and his inner conflict of being, more than from his political beliefs.

His aesthetic skill allows him to embody his agony into the visual. The moment the viewer can feel the emotion behind my art and start to live in it, he or she will start the conversation with my works.

In the process of creating my art I do have a conversation with the painting as a viewer. I don’t think the painting needs to be finished by having a viewer.

It is finished when I’m done with it. This does not mean the viewer cannot have his/her interpretation about the painting. I do hope the viewers will engage with the paintings, in a visual conversation and I’m glad if the paintings attain a life in the viewer’s mind. But for me life is close to what I had in my mind and my feelings when I finish the painting. It can vary from artist to artist.

Q. Have you arrived yet at the judgment phase about the work on view in Drafting Desire?

A: I’m often in the judgment phase, about all the work I’ve ever done so far. I’m quite satisfied about my journey as an artist and appreciate the genuine involvement of the Barefoot Gallery for organising this exhibition.

Art is my freedom of expression and my existence depends purely on the art I do.

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