Panic World: An exhibition by Vajira Gunawardena

By Naveed Rozais

One of the best things about art is how it allows people to express their creativity and emotions in almost any situation. Well-known Sri Lankan artist Vajira Gunawardena understands and embraces this emotional aspect of art, presenting his newest exhibition at Paradise Road The Gallery Cafe from 24 November to 15 December. 

Gunawardena holds a BFA from the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, University of Kelaniya. He has held a number of solo and group exhibitions here in Sri Lanka as well as internationally. His works have been exhibited abroad and the foreign exposure of his works include group shows in the UN House in Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Cuba, Tanzania, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh. 

Sri Lankan artist Vajira Gunawardena

Gunawardena’s work addresses issues and questions about culture and identity, exploring human imperfections or unseen aspects of humanity. His figurative abstract art explores the furthest extremes of the human psyche. Throughout Vajira’s works, abstract shapes are placed in balance and dialogue with one another, expressing an essential impetus towards human connection. 

In his work, Gunawardena looks to create a new language of art, mixing bright colours, rhythmic patterns, expressive imagery, and experimental techniques to create a new visual format that seeks to communicate to a fully expressionistic borderless painting. Drawing inspiration from many renowned artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jean Dubuffet, and George Condo to name a few, Gunawardena uses these many influences to set about inventing a child-like vocabulary of lines and forms, graffiti and street art, primitive and tribal art, pop and contemporary images to make emotionally involved paintings.

Gunawardena’s newest exhibition “Panic World” is years in the making, with painstaking research into psychoanalysis referencing the work of George Condo, and attempting to capture what people are thinking. Inspired in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, Gunawardena’s Panic World also attempts to capture the panic that most people felt during the three-month lockdown which took place earlier this year. 

Speaking on the process behind Panic World, Gunawardena shared that while Covid-19 was an influence, he had started working on the series much before the pandemic. “I experiment with ideas and form a lot before finalising a painting. I also spend a lot of time creating the right textures and trying out different techniques. The idea behind Panic World is not only Covid-19; it was more about human unseen effects and feelings. That was the main idea. Covid-19 came in as an influence on top of everything because of how it affected psyches and how people were dealing with it.” 

Panic World is Gunawardena’s first exhibition created solely with acrylic paint. Gunawardena explained that normally he works with oil paints and various other media, but this time around, given the restricted availability of art supplies, he has chosen to focus on acrylic paint on canvas as a medium. 

Panic World’s colour palette works with earth colours, a departure from Gunawardena’s previous work which favours bright, almost luminous colours. Gunawardena has also explored and experimented with his technique, mixing drawing as well as experimentation with his palette knife and stickers to create arresting paintings that capture a rarely seen side of the human psyche while provoking us to think about our own psyche and how we see the world around us. 

Panic World is being exhibited at Paradise Road The Gallery from 24 November to 15 December and will be open from 10 a.m. to midnight daily. The exhibition may also be viewed virtually at https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=xrAStXFLcXG.