Most artists who on account of parental pressures or other circumstances begin their working lives in different professions regret the time thus spent as time wasted. Ivan Peries was one of the rare exceptions. He showed artistic inclinations very early. He was profoundly interested in the right choice of materials and he very much enjoyed the technicalities of painting.

 Ivan Peries  

Ivan Peries was born on 31 July 1921 in Colombo. He first began art lessons under David Painter in the early 1940s in Colombo, and in these classes he met Aubrey Collette and developed a great friendship. Later Lionel Wendt recommended Harry Pieris as his teacher.

This association grew into a life-long friendship. Ivan Peries considered his guru as the finest of all teachers. In 1946 he won a government scholarship to go to London and join St. Johnswood School of Art for four years.

He very much enjoyed life in the school and it is there he discovered the technique of tempara which he used frequently in his work. The experience contributed largely towards Ivan Peries becoming such a legend and fastidious master of the craft in his own right.

The cinema legend Dr. Lester James Peries is his brother who was living in London in the 1940s. Lester James Peries was working as a sub-editor in a London newspaper. He wrote to his parents about his brother's work and that in master Russel's opinion has now the indication of future greatness. He was the prime movere in the formation of the '43 Group.

He had been a constant vigorous power and acted every way for the furtherance of art in Sri Lanka. He was committed to the Group and worked hard to make it the avant-garde of Ceylonese painting. (Returning from London in late 1949 Ivan Peries began giving art classes at Cora Abraham's Art School in Dickman's Road (then) Havelock Town. These classes included formal life drawings and great deal of discussions in the human anatomy.

Ivan Peries returned to live in London in 1953, and worked at various jobs, as messenger, builder's mate and hospital worker to earn a living while he continued to paint. He proved his genius by having several one-man exhibitions in Europe. In October 1965 he had 80 paintings and drawings at St. Chaterine's College, Oxford and 53 works at the Commonwealth Institute Gallery in 1966.

His paintings adorned the walls of leading institutions and formed part of several important private and national collections in many parts of the world, including the Petit Palais in Paris.

The Martin Parsel Collection in London, Pembroke College Oxford, Leicester Education Authority Leicester, the War Memorial Museum London and many other art galleries in Europe. His work was exhibited and goes as private collection at the Sapumal Foundation, and Anton Wickremasinghe collection in Colombo.

His work had the air of a whim or fancy. His land scapes had all sorts of themes that stimulated his imagination.

In the landscape composition he used drawings made from nature. Of greater merit than his landscape compositions are his figure compositions. He used golden reds and crimson glowing in a fierce tropical sky. In the deep forebodings of the sea and the rumblings of the monsoon equally full of awe as the painting titled 'The Return'.

There is realism in the anxiety with which the family awaits the return of the men gone out to the sea.

Spectacular fantastic effects were part of the feeling of freedom he enjoyed in his work. The paint is handled with absolute mastery, brushed impatiently on to the surface and leaving the portrait tingling with intensity and with a palpitating surface texture.

His response to portraiture was keener, more neurotic and though restricted, capable of giving a wonderfully graceful air to noble sitters.

Ivan Peries had the outstanding degree of craftsmanship with which to achieve all this. He was born to a family of five members had one brother and a sister. His father was a doctor of medicine. He died on 13 February 1988.

 

Tissa HEWAVITARANE

Sunday, 13 June 2010