Twenty years of singular vision mark the work of Solias Mendis in the temple in Kelaniya. To say the space is alive, animated with his spirit, is to court cliche. It is filled with many spirits and it's an indescribable human environment.
When I read, after my first viewing, that Mendis aimed for a subdued pallette I was sure the article referred to someone else's paintings. The work is utterly vibrant and alive. He accomplished worlds of gesture with just a few colors and it's a mystery how.
Perhaps it was the unconventional fresco medium he used, maybe it was the herbal pigments. But the images Mendis produced defy decay as thousands of eyes drink them in every day.
Much comment has been made of the facial expressions he created. They are said to reflect a realism and a unique personality of their own. Less attention has been paid to the flow of Mendis' lines, the gush of life, the movement of water and growth. The immersion in space and time, the way "viewers" become participants.
Said to be "neoclassical" the Mendis work, in my opinion, transcends style. Mendis worked with a devotion that spoke its own language. The delight in discovering that language is eminent in the work.
The images are charged with life. Energy flows through them like the processions, formal and unarranged, that flow through the halls. In contrast to the massive still reclining Buddha they are busy and entertaining and feisty.
They are also religious with a deep reflection of nature, humans, and life's relation to the cosmos. I think of Coomaraswamy's work on Sinhala art and see its apotheosis here, centuries after the Kandyan model he described.
As sometimes happens to me here I couldn't force myself to take a single picture. All was experience.