Not guns and gunny but art and gunny


Two young artists get their message of wildlife conservation across by turning something rough into a piece of artBy Malaka Rodrigo 

Wild animals killed by poachers usually end up inside gunny bags. But talented young artists Imalka Gunasekare and Hiran Tharaka are capturing wild animals on gunny bags. Their maiden exhibition of wildlife paintings done on gunny bags will be held on May 11 and 12 at the National Art Gallery

“A gunny sack is made of burlap, traditionally used for transporting grain, potatoes, and other agricultural products,” is the definition given in the Webster Online Dictionary. But for the young artists, the rugged gunny bags have proved a novel means of getting their message across.

The two artists working on jumbo sized gunny

“Gunny bags are pretty much a rough surface unlike other canvases used in professional paintings. But this ruggedness itself adds an artistic touch to the drawing,” said Imalka, explaining what had prompted him to start using gunny bags. After a little cleaning to remove the dust; the artist gets the gunny ready for drawing. Using marker pens to draw on the gunny bags a lot of patience is required as one wrong stroke can ruin the whole effect.

The artist first fixes the gunny on a frame to stop it from moving and then divides it into squares to make the drawing that he intends to put on the gunny. After making an initial rough sketch using a pencil, he starts with permanent markers to bring out the real image in his mind through the strokes.

The depth of the drawing is achieved by skilful manipulation of the tip of the marker rubbing more ink making some areas darker and other areas lighter. Once finished, the humble gunny is transformed to a piece of art. Imalka and Hiran have also done two large drawings together.

Hiran said that he had initially experimented with drawing on gunny bags alone, but Imalka was lucky to get the guidance of his senior wildlife arts instructor at the Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA) from the start.

This form of gunny art is in fact a new technique introduced to wildlife art by Imalka’s guru Isuru De Soyza. YZA conducts an annual art exhibition “Kin Wild” and Isuru’s work on gunny bags had always captured people’s interest. Inspired by this, Isuru started experimenting.

Imalka (in foreground) and Hiran

“One needs lots of patience to complete a drawing on a gunny bag, and these young artists have both the patience and the talent,” said Isuru commending their efforts.

“We also wanted to pass a message of the need to protect biodiversity through our exhibition, so we decided to present wildlife on gunny bags and named it ‘Roo Sobha’,” the artists say. Imalka’s background as a naturalist nurtured through the Young Zoologists’ Association also prompted the friends to get-together to work for a cause.

Multi-talented Imalka is an enthusiastic naturalist, currently working as a technician of IT hardware. Imalka and Hiran’s friendship started while they were schooling in Isipathana College. Both of them are just 21, but they are already artists of promise who dare to experiment with new media.“Roo Sobha” will be on at the National Art Gallery on May 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

published on SundayTimes on 01.05.2011

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