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Sunday, 25 November 2012





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Charmaine expresses her 'self' in Svayam

Svayam is a Sanskrit word that, in essence, means 'self': its interpretation varies within each context.

The paintings and drawings exhibited by Charmaine in her latest exhibition are, in her own words, "an expression of myself, my feelings, my experiences, my escape; they are my meditations, my relaxation, and the meanderings of my mind, whilst my body is firmly rooted in the mundane present".

Charmaine Vanderkoen Mendis

According to Charmaine, her only employment of technique is in the tree drawings. "They are the result of my mentor, Karunasiri Wijesinghe's inspiration, encouragement and training, although in my own estimation I fall far short of the perfection he requires. For me, the drawings have been a giant step in my progress. The black and white designs are the creative wanderings of my pen, done mostly on long airline flights. My mind just follows the meanderings of my hand, and I get lost in their creation. The colour pencil work tries to capture the unseen nuances of colour in Nature. The colour washes are experimental, I just go with the flow, at times trying to interfere, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Admittedly frustrating on occasion, but overall fulfilling".

According to Charmaine, those who have guided her over the years include Miss Benedicta de Silva at St Bridget's Convent, more recently Anoma Wijewardene, and her school friend, Lathifa Ismail, who for many years has been, and still is, her guide and friend in need. "They have inspired, taught and instilled in me many aspects of Art. I hope I have absorbed at least some of what they have tried to impart, enabling me to make my own statement today", she said.


Like a diamond, Charmaine is a many faceted woman, who has excelled in all her endeavours.

Two of Charmaine's abiding hobbies were spending time in the jungles, and reading. "The love of the jungles came from my father, and my interest, and later love of trees from my mother. My father was a hunter and went shooting very often. It was natural for me to follow suit on our regular trips to the jungles.

"My mother introduced me to dancing. I absolutely loved dancing and was keen, to learn any form of it. I truly believe that I was born to dance," she said. In 1954, Charmaine Vanderkoen Mendis was the first Sri Lankan to perform a Bharatha Natya Arangetram in Sri Lanka. In the following year she gave a Solo performance at the Museum Theatre, Madras, at the Ninth South Indian Natya Kala Conference, followed by performances in Colombo and Jaffna. Her Guru was one of the last great masters of the Tanjore Tradition, Shri T.S. Govindarajapillai.

One of her creations

At the Gala Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in 1954, she partnered Sesha Palihakkara, her Guru in (Manipuri and Kathak) in the lead role of Damayanthi, in Nala Damayanthi. She has also danced in London on stage and on BBC TV when Indian Dance was little known. Dance critic Arnold Haskell and Prima Ballerina Margot Fonteyn were greatly impressed by her dancing . Her early training in dance was in Western Ballet, which she learnt under Marjorie Sample.

Tap Dancing

Later on, as a pupil of Timmy Ingleton, she studied Tap Dancing, and was a regular performer at all the Ingleton School presentations. She has also learnt and performed Spanish Dancing under Yvonne Bradley and Pauline Wicks. In her teens she learnt and performed Manipuri Dance under Sukhendu Dutt and Sesha Palihakkara, Kathak under Sesha and Kandyan Dancing under Gurus Heen Baba Dharmasiri, Nittawela M Somadasa and Sri Jayana.

As regards Art, Charmaine was always keen on sketching and drawing, mostly landscapes with trees. "They were always leafless as I was unsure just how to draw leaves. I never succeeded in conquering perspective, and was aware of this. Somehow I managed to sneak in a painting or two, into the Annual Art Show of St Bridget's Convent, and surprisingly, even won the Art Prize one year".The turning point in Charmaine's artistic life came in 2005 when she went to see an exhibition of black and white tree drawings by Karunasiri Wijesinghe. "I was absolutely enthralled, and it was then that I knew beyond a doubt that this was how I wanted to draw trees. I immediately enrolled at the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts, where he was teaching, and began learning to draw, from the basic cube upwards. I soon moved on to real life trees, learning all the subtleties of light and shade, texture and grain and much more.

When Karunasiri's contract was over, he agreed to start a class at home, where two or three of us began working together. We sketched from life, going out of Colombo on sketching trips, even to Yala for a whole five days of serious work, not animal viewing. The results of those trips and our weekly classes, was Vruksha, an exhibition of black and white drawings of the trees of Sri Lanka. This was in 2011. The new exhibition titled 'Svayam', is a Sanskrit word with many meanings. I have used it in the context of "self".



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