The commonplace and the transcendental, the sublime and the ordinary...
Nearly half the canvases in Rahju's current exhibition of paintings at the Thilanka Hotel in Kandy are poetic landscapes (including two seascapes), while another three paintings have to do with cadjan, that commonest of materials, strips of coconut palm leaf woven into panels used for roofs or fences. Such apparently incompatible subjects-the sublime and the ordinary-have characterized Rahju's sensibility from his first Sri Lankan exhibition which I reviewed more than twenty years ago.At the time, just returned from art study in Norway, he was a "surrealist", creating mystery through unfamiliar juxtapositions of meticulously crafted scenes and objects. Later, he became what might be called a "hyper-realist," focusing carefully, as in the present exhibition, on the details of local flora and landscape. Most recently, the work became abstractly expressive, based on visual renderings of musical themes. [should we say "renderings of musical themes from ragas"?] In Rahju'swork, whether old or new, the commonplace and the transcendent are never far apart and indeed are often joined.
The magical or poetic quality that embues the seven mountain-and-seascapes in this
exhibition is not something that the painter has added for atmospheric effect. That these works embody a meditative mood should be no surprise to those familiar with Lankan skies and seas, hills and mists, light and shadow, dawn and twilight. Rahju's depictions of full moon nights and seasonal changes of weather and light on water, cloud, and waves are familiar to those of us who know Kandy. They are recollections of Lanka's incomparable natural beauties, faithfully rendered with Rahju's hallmarks; an uncommon technical skill and a sensitivity to the singularities of the natural world. Adding depictions of sacred sites or Hindu and Buddhist figures and emblems to beautiful, evocative landscapes is similarly not "for effect" in the sense of local colour but rather these convey the presence of the eternal in the transitory.
In this exhibition, it appears that, after two decades, surrealism is creeping back into
Rahju's work. At least the moving yellow curtain to the left of "Mountain Dancers", the fullmoon caught in the lines of the Trisula, the floating araliya flower in the Buddha's palm, and the dark interior of "Cadjan Door" are, for me, uncanny or unexpected elements that lead the viewer beyond the serenity and orderliness of the depicted subjects of the titles, and provoke the viewer to his or her own private thoughts and sensations.
Both, those of us who have long admired Rahju's art, and newcomers to the work will find much aesthetic reward in these latest paintings.
Stairway Gallery, Hotel Thilanka, Kandy