Chandraguptha Thenuwara is a skilled artist who crafts a vital message through his art. After studying under the master Tahir Salakhov at the Moscow State Art Institute, Thenuwara often recalls the tough curricula and teaching methods helping instil a discipline that earned him the title of 'Sri Lanka's best portrait artist' for his portrait of the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, belonging to the Parliamentary collection. Chandraguptha Thenuwara's first exhibition of 'Barrelism', titied 'In Dependence' took place in October 1997. Thenuwara is not an artist who finds inspiration away from the experience of contemporaneous realities, or stays silent about his views on the past and current state of Sri Lanka. His work has purpose and meaning. ''I wanted to express [my] thoughts through the drawing, painting and installing of barrels: to provoke discussion'' writes Thenuwara, who channels his knowledge of current affairs into a continuous struggle to interrogate vital events and issues through art.
Thenuwara returned home after receiving his MFA with honours. Between 1997 and 2009 he staged numerous solo exhibitions in Sri Lanka and Russia. His works belong to the permanent collections of the Fukuoka Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, John Moore's University Collection and Fine Art Museum of Udmurtia, Russia.
What then is 'Barrelism'? It is a lens that captures and helps us understand the evolution of a young Sri Lankan portrait artist to a leading contemporary abstract painter. It is the transformation of a culture, a period in Sri Lanka's history, a moment. It is a lifestyle we recognise, rendered skillfully into art that questions it. It as a form of Social Realism in art, 'a style of painting in which the scenes depicted typically convey a message of social or political protest edged with satire.' The barrel itself which is at the core of Barrelism is symbolic of the change in a culture, a city-scape etched against violence and a way of life. Barrelism expands our imagination through subtle forms of camouflage, transforming upon closer observation the surreal into recognisable artefacts that frame our lives and mental landscape.
From portraits to abstract contemporary art, this retrospective looks at the career of an artist who unflinchingly interrogates our reality and in the process, asks us to engage with what his art depicts and is based on. The skill in rendering the hidden and communicating beauty through simplicity are hallmarks of Thenuwara. Through Barrelism, we see this artist at his best and most provocative.
This exhibition ran parallel to Thenuwara's annual exhibition at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery titled 'Erasing the Camouflage'.