15 June, 2021

Brush Dipped In Passion

The Sri Lankan modernist George Keyt led a bohemian life. In art, he was as voracious, being influenced by medieval Indian painting, as also Cubism.

Brush Dipped In Passion

In Colombo’s multi-ethnic Borella suburb, George Keyt ventures on a year’s art expedition across the new walls of a Buddha temple whose env­irons stimulated his aesthetics from childhood as a Sri Lankan of British descent. The 1939-40 work gifts Got­ami Vihara with not just sensual visuals of the Buddha’s life; the many-hued etchings also usher in the first brush of modernity for Sri Lankan art.

Keyt’s frescoes “humanised and secula­rised” the life story of the sage who lived five centuries before Christ, expanding the “nationalist and traditionalist” ethos of this religious project “towards the global modern”. As Yashodhara Dalmia notes, Keyt’s pioneering depiction of Mara and the demon’s armies bears stylistic similarities with Pablo Picasso’s.

For all his adoration for the Spaniard, this was one observation Keyt (1901-93) abhorred as he evolved. The book later notes the artist ruing that the West wasn’t well exposed to Kalighat and India’s miniature paintings, to...

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