The Meditative Art of Ivan Peries

The Meditative Art of Ivan Peries is a blog post by Ana Brdar about the Sri Lankan artist.

The ’43 Group was a Sri Lankan school of painting which yielded its most significant works during the 1940s and 1950s. It is regarded as one of the most influential art movements in Asia at the time, and it’s credited with shaping the contemporary Sri Lankan art scene as we know it today.

The key members of the ’43 Group included George Keyt, Harold Peiris, Geoffrey Beling and George Claessen. Even though there was no single stylistic expression that united their works, they were all in some measure dedicated to adopting and implementing the ideas taken from the modern art movements and relating it to Sri Lankan experience.

An individual who achieved a delicate balance between the two and turned it into a striking visual expression was one of the group’s founding members, Ivan Peries.

Born in Dehiwala in 1921 to a family of Sri Lankan intellectuals, Peries discovered his love of art at a very early age. Despite his family’s wish for Peries to pursue a university degree, he instead became apprentice to David Paynter, another significant Sri Lankan artist at the time.

Soon afterwards, he came under the mentorship of Harry Pieris, who soon became one of Peries’ closest friends and associates.

In 1946, Peries was awarded a government scholarship to the St John’s Wood School of Art in London. During his time in the UK capital, Peries was financed by a British diplomat called Martin Russell, who ended up becoming a patron of several members of the ’43 Group. This was one of the most productive periods in Peries’ career, during which he painted a number of portraits and panel studies.

At a first glance, it’s easy to notice the occidental influences in Peries’ work, most notably the French school. The visual language of his paintings is distinctly evocative of the unparalleled master of landscape, Paul Cézanne.

And yet, Peries’ works never moved out of the Ceylonese environment. Many of his paintings depict coastal villages, idle tropical landscapes and local people at work. Among the finest examples of Peries’ contemplative, static art are The Return (1956) and Dehiwala (1978).

However, this combination of European artistic influences and Sri Lankan narrative settings served as a vehicle for Peries to express something deeper and more universal.

Oftentimes, his paintings were inhabited by solitary figures gazing into the distance, creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere and mood that went far beyond simple depictions of nature.

Despite being one of the most hailed artists to come out of Sri Lanka, Peries was sometimes derided for his bourgeois status, which critics claimed was embodied in the Western influences in his art, which served to visually distance him from his homeland.

However, Peries himself was deeply aware of his precarious status. His musings on complexities of being an indigenous artist in what he called an “inevitable” exile were perhaps’ best illustrated in the work called Untitled (Seashore), which was created in his adoptive home, Southend-On-Sea.

Despite all the troubles of occupying space as a post-colonial artist, Ivan Peries successfully managed to capture on canvas an all-embracing, yet otherworldly experience that is still firmly grounded in his Sri Lankan roots.

View the work of Neleisha Weerasinghe, Kobo artist from Sri Lanka.