‘Shiva’ II (2007) by Jagath Weerasinghe
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 inches
Let me wax lyrical for a moment about this wonderful piece in the collection by Jagath Weerasinghe. Titled ‘Shiva’ and painted in 2007, this work is clearly a depiction of the classical Hindu image of ‘Shiva Nataraja’, Lord Shiva dancing within a ring of fire symbolic of the cosmic and eternal cycle of life and death, that that allows to the world to carry on as it does. It is a classical image that I am very used to personally having seen it in my local temple in Archway since I was a small boy. It also played a large part in the tours I used to give at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts (@BarberInstitute) where they had a striking bronze Nataraja on the way up the stairs. Although the dance of all dances is depicted in this classical Hindu image, one that can literally change/end the world if it ends, the depiction brings some relief when one stands before it. Personally I feel time slow down as I see these many arms and legs raised mid-flow. We feel at peace looking at it. Such feelings are turned on their head when one looks at the charged image of Weerasinghe’s Nataraja. One notes first that it is only the lower half of the deity (and some of the arms) that is depicted and the ring of fire around the figure is also lost as is the character of ‘Apasmarapurusha’ from beneath the stamp of Shiva’s right foot, a character symbolic of sloth, confusion and forgetfulness. Concentration is given by Weerasinghe to the legs, the limbs that create and destroy with its dance. Looking at the work, one cannot help but relate the violence of the technique and the moody, depressive choice of colour to this corporeal focus. Few artists would take a brush doused in black paint to the blank canvas like Weerasinghe bravely does. The very nature of the colour is destructive to other colours as much as it is to the canvas. The colour is so deafening that one can very rarely see colours below it or above it. It is such a claustrophobic and overwhelming colour that one might not even notice colours next to it when it is put down, let alone the original colour of the canvas. In this way, Weerasinghe is rebellious, flying in the face of convention, seemingly uncaring and undeterrable. His technique matches his choice in colour. It is violent and aggressive. One is reminded by Francis Bacon at points perhaps. The movements of blackness depict the fervour of the dance. It is not something as uniquely peaceful (though paradoxically dynamic) as we are used to in the classical form. This Shiva’s dance seems frenetic and unstoppable, perhaps out of control, involving the whole body in convulsion. We the audience are not given peace, time is not slowed down for us, if anything we become aware of the angst, confusion, rush and disarray of life around us. It is clear that Weerasinghe is attempting to face us with a harsh reality, a bitter truth. Being an artist hailing from Sri Lanka one can tell that this work (part of a series of Shivas created the artist) is certainly highly political in meaning. On the one hand one wonders if the painting of the work was a cathartic experience for the artist, allowing him to take out his aggression at the status quo. Or else, whether it is a dark wish for things to start again, by any means necessary.
For more works by Jagath Weerasinghe, click here.