When ‘Twilight’ leads to ‘Dawn’

  • Ruwan Prasanna’s latest exhibition at SFG

Art is one of the more pleasurable things in life, and good art can be a bright spot in even the darkest of times. Creating a spot of brightness is exactly what artist Ruwan Prasanna hopes to do with his newest solo exhibition “Dawn”.

Dawn, which opens to the public on 12 November at the Saskia Fernando Gallery, is an exhibition that chiefly captures the optimism of dawn and the beauty and freshness of a new day.

Artist Ruwan Prasanna

Ahead of his opening next week, Brunch chatted with Ruwan Prasanna to learn more about how he approaches his art, and what we can expect from Dawn. 

Prasanna’s origin story

An advertising professional by day, Prasanna shared that he’d always been artistic; drawing and pursuing art in school, going on to be selected to study fine arts from the University of Kelaniya, although for various reasons, he was unable to pursue this completely at the time. This was when he first joined the advertising field but feeling that he was still missing an important base of artistic and creative knowledge, he eventually enrolled at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts, the school set up by the illustrious artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara. At the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts, Prasanna shared that he was able to receive the training in art that he craved, and which, he says, makes it easier for him to connect with people through his art.

Throughout his career in advertising, Prasanna shared that he never lost his love for art, and in fact, since 2004, would frequently exhibit at the Kala Pola (art market) in Colombo organised by the George Keyt Foundation. Speaking on balancing his art with a demanding career in advertising, Prasanna explained that when he first joined advertising some 12 years ago, before it was entirely transformed by social and digital media, the field was somewhat different. “Most artists worked at ad agencies, I was very happy with the job and easily able to balance two because those in the field were also interested in art and very supportive,” Prasanna said, noting that over the intervening years, he has found that people don’t engage in art as much in the advertising field as they used to, but he still loves being able to work in such a creative industry. 

As a solo artist, Prasanna’s first exhibition took place in 2010, while he was still studying at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine artists, with a collection of paintings showcased at the Paradise Road Galleries, which has been followed by five more solo exhibitions, with his most recent exhibition, “Twilight” being showcased in 2019, albeit somberly, as this exhibition took place just after the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

Building a signature style

Artwork from Prasanna’s previous exhibition ‘Twilight’

Prasanna works mainly as an abstract painter and works predominantly on large-scale canvas pieces. Today his work belongs to important private collections, including the Galle Face Hotel, Paradise Road, and Taru Villas amongst other local and international private collectors.

When asked what inspires him as an artist, Prasanna explained that his chief inspiration comes from nature. Originally from Galle, he has very fond memories of the trees, leaves, sunsets and sunrises, and the general landscape of the area, and even to date, though he lives in Colombo, he much prefers to be around nature than concrete. His love for nature is what influences his work.

“Nature, with all its different forms and depths and colours, evokes a strong feeling in me, and I use my brushstrokes and colours to get the effect of that feeling out onto the canvas,” Prasanna said, adding that his landscapes are not traditional, but abstract  “Post-Impressionist” representations of nature that incorporate vibrant colours and fluid brushstrokes. 

Prasanna primarily uses colour as a communication tool in his work, using how colour captures the fleeting motion of light to enliven the canvases. His colour palette also translates some of the things he loves most about nature, like how sunshine filters through leaves. His brushstrokes too, tell intricate stories, with certain frequencies depicting the relation that he creates between the Colombo cityscapes and its trees. 

The overall effect of Prasanna’s work is profound and is reminiscent of the work of his artistic heroes, the American painter Joan Mitchell and the French painter Claude Monet, who were each legends in their respective fields.

Dawn: The new kid on the block

Artwork from Prasanna’s previous exhibition ‘Twilight’

At the cusp of debuting his latest exhibition, we asked Prasanna what his favourite exhibition to date was, and looking back, he recalled that his very first solo exhibition at Paradise Road Galleries would always hold a special place in his heart. “You exhibit in the hopes that people will understand and appreciate your work,” Prasanna explained. “So the first time you exhibit, while you’re also anxious, it’s also a hugely beneficial and inspiring experience. There was a big crowd at that first exhibition, and it was a big deal for me to be able to talk about my work with them.”

“Dawn”, Prasanna’s newest exhibition, is somewhat linked to his last exhibition “Twilight”, in that it also refers to a particular time of day – in this case, dawn. Each painting in Dawn captures the spirit of dawn.

“Each morning brings a fresh mood with it,” Prasanna explained. “No matter how busy or stressed we were the day before when we wake up the next day and we see sunbeams and morning mist (with present weather, you can even see mist in Colombo now), our minds are fresh. Every dawn brings freshness with it, and that is what I’m trying to capture with this exhibition, that feeling of freshness and lightness – a spot of brightness.”

Artwork from Prasanna’s previous exhibition ‘Twilight’

The exhibition itself consists of 20 canvases, from the large format 8×8 ft. canvases to canvases as small as 2×2 ft. For Prasanna, larger canvases make him better able to express himself and create the right texture and feeling through his work. The colours Prasanna relies on to convey his feelings in Dawn are mainly greens and yellows.

Speaking on its links to Twilight, Prasanna shared that some of the pieces in Dawn are pieces he began working on when doing Twilight but that were never finished and have been built on to become part of Dawn – but that mainly, Dawn shows what happens after Twilight.  “With Twilight I used a lot of darker colours to capture the spirit of that time of day. With Dawn I’ve gone with lighter colours to evoke that freshness that dawn brings,” he shared.

Dawn by Ruwan Prasanna will be on display at the Saskia Fernando Gallery from 11 November to 11 December.