A painter, landscape artist, architect, sculptor and innovator are the cascade of titles that trail after the name Laki Senanayake. Yet the artist himself likens his numerous creative accomplishments to “eating ice cream, to indulge in one thing only to move on to another”; a means he says, to keep boredom at bay.
By Prasadini Nanayakkara | Photography by Laki Senanayake
“As a small child of three, I was interested in, birds, rocks trees and the sea, and I would capture them in my paintings. Now as an old man of 72 this is what I am still doing” says Laki Senanayake. The saga of his creative life unfolded when Laki’s dismissal from his first job – a result of instigating a trade union – proved to be a fortunate turn of events for his drawings came to the notice of renowned architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa who promptly sought his talents.
Thus dawned the beginning of a new avenue in his life, with a vista of opportunities to unleash creativity at its best. Through the architectural drawings for Geoffrey Bawa, he learnt to enjoy architecture “build buildings, feasibly, practically and beautifully”. Many of these key buildings, from the Parliament to hotels, are embellished with Laki’s numerous works, be it paintings or sculptures. Among the many large sized sculptures he has created are the much admired Dutch and Sinhalese warriors along the stairway of the Lighthouse Hotel.
Laki was ready to break free from the confines of the office environment following a six-year stint with Geoffrey Bawa, and made a new creative venture into Batiks working for Ena de Silva. This experience, Laki simply equates to a “wonderful time” yet taxing, as it demanded constant innovation to come up with new designs.
Exhausting his creative energies with Batiks, Laki took off to live in the jungle in Dambulla armed with a handbook on how to grow chillies. In the meantime Laki resumed his indulgence in nature as he tirelessly painted the trees, birds and plants that surrounded him, in great detail. It was here that his forest home “Diyabubula” came to being. Laki abandoned his endeavours in agriculture as it provided limited means for a living. Instead he transformed five acres of chena-cultivated land with a spring flowing through it, into a water garden teeming with wildlife. This was accomplished over a period of 40 years where he re-grew the forest. A living “eco sculpture” he crowns “Diyabubula” as his biggest and best sculpture and its renown and beauty has prompted many a visitor to frequent his home. This feat Laki only seconds to his greatest which he fondly states, was raising his baby daughter as a single parent.
During this time Laki continued to supply his creative works for Geoffrey Bawa on commission. Known for his knack for growing trees Laki was approached to provide trees for the Kandalama Hotel and he complied with 150 trees and further created the regal metal owl that can be seen soaring within the hotel premises.
On painting Laki says, “I do two sorts of painting, one for commission where you have to please the client and the other is to simply start with splotches of paint on paper and then look at how to proceed with it,” this latter method Laki explains is best when one doesn’t know quite how to begin, but “it invariably turns into something interesting to look at.”
Laki also holds the prestige of designing a series of currency notes in 1979 based on endemic species of Sri Lanka. They are now said to be of high value, a few of which are displayed at the museum.
His current creative ventures include digital painting where artwork is generated entirely on the computer. Starting with a digital photograph, be it a bark of a tree or a patch of fungus, manipulation in adobe photoshop results in something vastly different, he explains. His latest inventive idea is growing one’s own house complete with running water and electricity out of living trees and has in fact accomplished this feat using arecanut palms. It is presently inhabited by its owners.
Of his life’s work Laki says, “for me its not work, it is play, I am one of those lucky people who have managed to play throughout my life since childhood.”