Letting your mind flow on paper and seeing where it takes you: ‘Dots and Lines’ by Preethi Hapuwatte

Preethi Hapuwatte

“Dots and Lines” is an exhibition by veteran artist Preethi Hapuwatte that took root in the pandemic, and Hapuwatte’s experiences during the lockdown and the months that followed. Art and the pandemic is something that is often discussed. Now, with a new, stronger variant of Covid-19 having found its way to our shores, a lot of these questions seem to be coming up again. 

Brunch caught up with Hapuwatte for a brief chat on “Dots and Lines” and how it all came together. 

Having worked on “Dots and Lines” for nearly a year, Hapuwatte will be showcasing the exhibition at the Barefoot Gallery, Colombo’s oldest contemporary art gallery, from 30 April-16 May. There was initially an opening preview event planned on 29 April, but Hapuwatte shared that this has been cancelled, taking into account the current rise in Covid-19 infections Sri Lanka is going through at the moment.

Hapuwatte’s interest in art has been lifelong. “I was always good at drawing,” Hapuwatte shared, adding: “And then I left school very early and joined Barefoot in 1972 as an assistant to Barbara Sansoni. I retired from Barefoot last year from the post of Design Director.” 

In her 40-plus-year career, Hapuwatte has gone on to hold 11 solo exhibitions with “Dots and Lines’” being her 12th, with her exhibitions serving as outlets for Hapuwatte’s personal expression. Hapuwatte was also a member of the George Keyt Foundation for several years and participated in the foundation’s Nawa Kalakaruwo exhibitions and international artists’ camps in the 1990s. Her paintings are held in private collections around the world.

“I love painting. Every time I paint, it’s not realistic; it’s a bit abstract and just what comes into my mind and where my hand takes me when I pick up a pen. It just flows on the paper or on the canvas,” Hapuwatte said, speaking on her process and how she approaches creating art. Coming from a family that has always dabbled in creativity, Hapuwatte was never formally trained, learning from her parents and siblings (she is the eighth child in her family). 

Paintings from Preethi Hapuwatte’s ‘Dots and Lines’ exhibition

Hapuwatte’s exhibitions have always drawn on her experiences and her take on life at that moment, and “Dots and Lines” is her take on the pandemic and what it means to live through these exceptional times. Returning back to Sri Lanka from Darwin, Australia on one of the last flights allowed into the country last March, Hapuwatte was in quarantine for 28 days which then led into the three-month long nationwide lockdown. 

“I was home for 28 days with nothing to do,” Hapuwatte explained, speaking on beginning the art that would lead to “Dots and Lines”. “I had only a few sketchbooks, watercolour paper, and a few pens, so I started creating these paintings during the lockdown, and later on, once the curfew was lifted, I was able to go buy canvases and other material, and I produced so many pieces. I thought of making this into an exhibition.”

The name “Dots and Lines” came to be because Hapuwatte as a lot of line drawings with dots making a significant appearance throughout the exhibition. The exhibition comprises 25 framed paintings (watercolour ink on paper), five oil on canvas paintings, and four acrylic on canvas paintings. 

“As an artist, I tend to do very large canvases, mostly,” Hapuwatte said, explaining her normal art style, adding: “But because of the Covid-19 situation, I was using pen and ink and watercolour drawings, with only a few oil on canvas and acrylic paintings.”

As an artist in the pandemic, Hapuwatte felt that the best thing she could do was paint. “It kept me inside the house – I couldn’t go out,” she said, speaking of the pandemic. “I think it helps not to take worries into your head, and everything clears when I’m painting. It’s like a form of meditation to me. You’re able to express yourself without talking; just put it on paper and show that this is what you are and how you feel.”  

Hapuwatte shared that, to her, it is important to be able to do something worthwhile during this exceptional time, without simply just talking about the pandemic, and that this is her way of doing so. She also noted that that artists continuing to create gives galleries the chance to keep operating and showcasing work, noting that she is very lucky to have a place and platform like the Barefoot Gallery to exhibit from.


“Dots and Lines” will run from 30 April to 16 May 2021 at the Barefoot Gallery.

Barefoot Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday.