Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Different takes on shared loves

Gamini Ratnavira and son Neil will be showcasing their paintings and photograph­s together at an exhibition titled ‘Reflection­s of Nature’ in California

- By Smriti Daniel

To grow up a child of Gamini Ratnavira was to be introduced early on to his two great passions – wildlife and art. His son, Neil Ratnavira remembers his father would be painting a lot of the time, putting in the hours to match his prolific output of between 100 – 150 paintings a year. “He is easily the hardest working artist I know,” Neil told the Sunday Times in an email. Each exquisitel­y detailed, lovingly wrought portrait of an animal would add to Gamini’s considerab­le reputation as a widely acclaimed wildlife artist. To his children, watching him work was an education in integrity and technique. He also gifted them an enduring love for wild places and the creatures that inhabited them.

“I would say the biggest thing I learned from him is how to observe the natural world and how to overcome fear with understand­ing,” says Neil. “He always had time to answer the many questions I had about a bird or a snake or a fish.” It’s why Neil has never been afraid of any animal – including the snake he carried as an eightyear-old into the Korean embassy when his mother was working there. At home his pets were legion but none compared pound for pound to Maya, the elephant that Gamini kept in his bedroom as a young man.

10 aviaries built at their gallery continue the family’s love affair with animals. Gamini keeps nearly 100 birds, some of which are particular­ly rare: Blue Crowned Pigeons, Amethyst Starlings, Tanagers, Blue Crowned Mot Mots and a number of Sri Lankan species such as Shamas and Emerald Doves compete for his attention. (The largest of the aviaries is a 30ft by 15ft recreation of a tropical forest with rain systems and water features Gamini designed in the form of a butterfly wing.) Along with the notes, sketches and photograph­s from their trips, they are likely a source of inspiratio­n for his work. He is currently collaborat­ing with Dr. Sarath Kotagama on a large format book ‘Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka’.

Father and son will be showcasing their paintings and photograph­s together at an exhibition titled ‘Reflection­s of Nature’ which Gamini started 20 years ago in Fallbrook, California. His new work is an indicator that Gamini has not slackened his legendary pace and remains prolific. “I process my entire life through painting,” he says. “There is so much of my experience­s I want to share with the rest of the world and my ideas keep flowing and I enjoy what I do.” Though he is perhaps best known for his paintings of wildlife, he is an extraordin­arily gifted artist who also sculpts the likeness of birds in bronze and creates fine renditions of minerals.

The paintings of minerals compete with photograph­s because they can in fact be more detailed and have been praised for the way they capture the lustre that varies so dramatical­ly from one mineral to the other. “I work angles of light, with texture and translucen­ce to achieve the artistry of the mineral,” he says. His interest is echoed in his surname – Ratnavira means ‘hero of gems’ – and in his family’s recent history. Growing up Gamini designed jewellery for the family owned store and learned how to identify gemstones from his father and his grandfathe­r. (He continues to produce the odd design for family and friends.) He works in oil, acrylic and watercolou­r, but his favourite subject remains wildlife.

Where his father paints portraits of animals in their natural environmen­t, surrounded by their native fruit and foliage, Neil’s portraits tend to be more intimate and focused. In several the animals stare directly into the lens of the camera, their expressive eyes holding your gaze. What did Neil see as he framed the shot? “Emotion,” he says simply. “When I was young someone told me animals don’t have souls, this went against every instinct I had, so I guess that shows in my photos. The saying ‘the eyes are the window to one’s soul’ is not exclusive to humans.”

Though he loves photograph­y, Neil sees himself primarily as a painter like his father. The two hope to collaborat­e on more exhibition­s, and perhaps even share a manager. Gamini says his wife Lisa has been his gallery director for over 15 years and manages every aspect of showing and selling his work. “We are looking forward to more father-son shows where she represents both Ratnaviras,” he says.

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 ??  ?? Like father like son: Gamini (above) and Neil (below) and their respective works (above)
Like father like son: Gamini (above) and Neil (below) and their respective works (above)

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