Skzin and Bones – Beauty of the Macabre

29 May

There might be a genre of people who love the macabre; skulls, bones, skeletons – all things grotesque. I am not one of them.

Taking a leisurely stroll round the upstairs gallery of the Lionel Wendt over the weekend however, to review Dr. Milinda Salpitikorala’s much famed work, I was both fascinated and impressed by the artwork.

“What kind of a depraved childhood did you have doctor?” might be a question asked by some with a decided aversion to the sinister. In fact, he might be used as a poster boy by radical revolutionists who posit that comic books / fairy tales / heavy metal and rock music are harmful to our children. He admits that comic book reading was the beginning of his fascination with skulls, bones, monsters and devils.

But the hugely cheerful, robust young man who offers to give me a guided tour of his work is the last thing from depraved, anyone can come across.  His energy and enthusiasm is infectious and even without that, his artwork by itself needs no apology or explanation. It is both compellingly creative and beautiful. The good doctor is clearly a highly skilled artist. Many people might indulge in artwork of the macabre to appeal to those who like the macabre, but Salpitikorala’s work stands out in that it will appeal to anyone who appreciates beauty – not just those who like the genre. He has succeeded in what I would have previously thought was impossible – making the grotesque, beautiful!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
The Doctor and his alter ego!

With a decided aversion to all things macabre, I must admit to not having seen much artwork of this kind – but what few I have seen, I have not liked. Salpitikorala is the first artist to make me think of skulls as beautiful. No, I wasn’t drawn to Mumm-Ra of ThunderCats or Skeletor of He-Man all that much (though I did love the cartoons).  Dr. Salpitikorala however was apparently smitten with both.

The ‘welcoming entry’ as Salpitikorala calls it – the first entry one saw upon walking in, was a trinity of skulls – mischievously  called ‘The Trinity’ by the Doc. The Trinity might mean different things in different religions, but here, they are three, rather compellingly fascinating skulls.

The Trinity

Next is a woman’s face with octopus like dreadlocks – said dreadlocks being accessorized with tiny skulls. Apparently, it is a tribute to one of his favourite artists, H.R Giger.

Next up was an “Ancient Love Story” in three parts; the first part showed the Danda Monara Yathraya (famed flying vehicle of King Ravana) which Salpitikorala has depicted as a real bird. The next one showed a muscularly handsome Ravana flying his bird vehicle; he could pass for a comic book superhero with his streamlined, powerful body in this depiction. The last picture in the series depicts a sinisterly handsome man and beautiful woman in coital embrace within the protective coils of a multi-headed snake.  The nude couple are clearly very much in love and engrossed with each other. This is Salpitikorala’s depiction of Ravana and Sita, which he says “Some Indians might not agree with but…”

It’s still his interpretation of their love story. And certainly the three-part series makes for a very compelling narrative of the star-crossed lovers. Did history rewrite itself on the victor’s side? Makes one almost wonder.

Ravana on his Danda Monara Yathraya

Salpitikorala being a qualified medical doctor (who works by day and paints by night), the bodies depicted are also fascinating in their anatomical perfection. Most of the male bodies in the paintings, brought to mind Michelangelo’s famed David; muscular, streamlined and beautiful.

My respect for his work also increased due to the fact that there were no genitalia to be seen. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the argument for nudity in paintings but in my opinion, many artists use genitalia in their artwork the same way many novelists use raunchy sex in their prose – to ‘sell’!  And that in a way sometimes cheapens the art.  The fact that Salpitikorala has depicted beautifully nude bodies but refrained from showcasing genitals means (to me at least) that he is confident enough as an artist to not need to resort to the obvious.

That’s my interpretation of course. To someone else specifically looking out for that kind of thing, it might mean he has ‘issues.’ He has certainly been ingenious in the way he has shied away from depicting the male sex organ. I for one am not complaining – the results were tasteful and beautiful, good enough for ‘family viewing’ as it were.

Gurulu Dancer

As a child, he says he was good in both art and biology; he might have preferred to pursue a career in art but, ‘parents being parents’ as he philosophically accepts, they did not think it was a viable career and packed him off to Manipal University, India to study medicine. Anatomy was one of his favourite classes – no surprises there.

One of the drawings on display – a rather desolate scene of dead trees and a dejected silhouette, was drawn as he explains, ‘on the back benches of Manipal during a very boring lecture.’

Titled Look Again the artist draws attention to the fact that it is not really a dejected portrayal. “Look carefully through the branches of the trees – you can see a naked female form. That’s why I titled it Look Again.”

Look Again

While not immediately visible to the eye, upon closer observation, a naked female form could indeed be discerned between the outlines of the dead tree branches – so while a young man sits, apparently crushed for whatever reason – an ethereal houri is waiting for him, if only he would look.

One couldn’t help grinning at his mischievous creativeness. It immediately begged the question, “Did he ever get caught in his ‘back-benching’ proclivities?”

“Of course!” comes the reply. “Even as a schoolboy, I was forever staying after school or putting in time over the weekends, to help the custodian paint the desks I had doodled over. I was a compulsive doodler.”

It’s a good thing that all those corrective punishments didn’t put paid to his artistic spark. If anything, the spark has lit into an unstoppable flame now. Despite all the trials and tribulations of a demanding education and career, Dr. Salpitikorala is also a very creative and talented artist, who has already acquired a fan base in Colombo. And that despite never having exhibitions before – this is his very first exhibition of his work.

The exhibition, titled ‘Skzin and Bones,’ which was free of charge to viewers at the Lionel Wendt over the weekend, has opened up his work to many more potential admirers. On display were both his canvases and his T-shirt designs (he has his own designer brand called Skzin, which is already quite popular in the market).

Designs for the T-Shirt Collection

The doctor who loves ‘Skzin and Bones’ has made his mark on the Sri Lankan Art scene, with this, his first exhibition. He has had a loyal fan base for some time, but with this foray, he had made converts out of even ‘non-believers’ like this writer. If you are not familiar with the name already, make a note of it. It will be a name to look out for soon, a name that will entrench itself in the annals of Sri Lankan Art – Dr. Milinda Salpitikorala! This is the first. We certainly haven’t heard the last of him yet, if what he has displayed thus far is anything to go by.

Photos by Amitha Tennekoon 

More Pictures

Dragon

Angel of Death

Werewolf

Good and Evil have the same face

Masks facing away from each other

Star crossed Lovers: Ravana and Sita

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