The Sunday Leader

Anup Vega: Larger than life



By Sherwani Synon

The name ‘Anup Vega’ has made its rounds in the art scene in and around Colombo for over a decade. His work has gained local and international recognition and has progressed and matured from his first art exhibition of a random collection of drawings at the Hermitage Gallery in 1997.

His name is familiar to those who appreciate art in all its forms and his work is identified instantly by those who move closely with the art circle. We have come to know him as a bearded, eccentric looking artist who is able to create exquisite pieces of art. But is he as eccentric as most of us perceive him to be? Where does he find the inspiration to create and continue creating different types of art over the years? And most of all what motivated a son of a photographer and a school teacher, to be Anup Vega, the artist and the being, we have come to know of.

The answers to these exact questions led us to Pannala, which borders the Kurunegala district and falls within the coconut triangle in Sri Lanka. As we neared the final leg of the journey we encountered a smiling Anup in his hardy Volkswagen van ready to guide us to his abode.

Born into an artistic background on the outskirts of Kurunegala, Vega, (the name given to him by his father) is the youngest boy of five. He was introduced to art as a child as his older brother dabbled in painting, and therefore giving Anup the opportunity of playing around with colours to his heart’s content.

Speaking to Anup about his childhood, he said that he was unhappy during most of his school years.

He explained saying, “I did not want to go to school but since my mother was a school teacher, I did not have an option. I attended a village school close to my house but I was very unhappy with the whole set up and the way schools functioned. I psychologically survived my schooling years by escaping to Waduragala which was located nearby. There, I would spend time with nature which later on became one of the biggest inspirations for my art.”

Although Anup did not agree with the ways of organized education, his mother thought otherwise and sent him off to a popular Christian school in Kurunegala and thereafter to Isipathana College in Colombo, hoping she could encourage her son to take education seriously.

Her attempts had very little effect on him and by then he had already made up his mind and his thoughts had developed to an extent which most human beings only achieve during the latter stages of their lives; that too if they are lucky.

“From a very young age I understood that there is more to life than the one we live on a daily basis. There are only two purposes in life – one is celebration of life and the other is learning. I follow both and this leads to self-realization and until you get to that point you relive the cycle of life,” he explained.

When questioned about how he balances his day to day activities as a husband and father of two and his outlook on life, he said that his attitude towards it is different and he witnesses the activities as a function and not a responsibility. He went on to say that we live in a system and we need to function collectively in this system and that he understands the importance of these things but tries not to let it interfere with his freedom and outlook on life.

Two of his main inspirations in life and his paintings are the divine and human beings. When asked whether he was religious, he flatly said that God has no religion but has a master plan in which we participate as beings.

“In the category of beings, humans are the most interesting as they are the most intelligent. I consider to be born as a human a blessing; we have been bestowed with a powerful gift, the gift of mental capacity. Humans are not just physical bodies, each is made out of four different bodies – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and all of these create the character in a human. We are all the same as we are all made out of these bodies but the individual growth in these bodies make you function differently and that’s what separates people from one another,” Anup said explaining his fascination with the human race.

Continuing with stories from his early years, Anup explained that after completing school, he stayed at home for seven years trying his best to unlearn what he was taught in school and to be normal again. During this time, he came across Master Osho, a famous Indian mystic and spiritual teacher, who he considers one of his principle masters apart from his parents. With the knowledge of Osho’s teachings, Anup engaged in dynamic meditation techniques which helped him connect with his roots.

“For seven years I wondered about my destination and eventually I found grounding through the teachings of Master Osho and through meditation. That is when I realized that I wanted to engage in the aesthetic medium and get involved in art,” he said.

After this realization, Anup decided to leave home and go to Colombo to make a living as his parents had had enough with their confused son, who grew his hair and beard and weaved his own clothes and shoes. After arriving in Colombo, Anup was introduced to the hotel industry through a close friend and took up his first job as a food and beverage artist at a hotel.

“My job required me to work on sculptures and the presentation aspect of dishes. I worked at the hotel for around six years and then started getting offers from different hotels and then eventually I moved on to Ramada, which is now known as Cinnamon Lakeside. While working there, I was offered job opportunities in the Middle East. Unlike in Sri Lanka, the job was quite a challenge overseas as the ice blocks were massive and I had to be cautious when sculpting,” he said.

However, his stays at these stylish hotels were very brief as he would return to the island periodically. During one of his visits, he managed to purchase some art material as he was on the verge of seriously pursuing art.

“I had a lot of fun during my working years. I got the opportunity of meeting a lot of people but I also managed to preserve myself, which was very important to me. Finally when I got sick of Colombo and its ways I shifted to Nuwara Eliya and found work at the Grand Hotel. At that time I met Raaju and he recognized me for who I am,” he explained.

The two initially connected over their mutual admiration for Master Osho and remained friends. It is some time after the first meeting that Anup showed his work to Raaju, an established artist  who helped him to get into the art scene by introducing him to Ajitha De Costa, the owner of Hermitage Gallery. Soon after, Anup had his first art exhibition at this exact location.

“Art to me is a process of witnessing. We witness with our eyes and we build our thoughts and imaginations based on what we see. I witness the wheel of time in my paintings. As art is inside the person, and he or she sees his own version of it through the mind’s eye, I’m very careful in provoking thoughts through my work. My work is an echo of my own thoughts so I am cautious in what I stir in the minds of others. I want to be able to heal, help and ground people through my art pieces,” he stated.

Anup dabbles in a variety of mediums and does not stick to one. His art varies from realistic environments such as the borders of the Pidurutalagala Mountain, to abstract paintings.

“I paint for my pleasure,” he said while sifting through numerous drawings and paintings stored in his studio.

Anup has no specific time to paint, and when he is tired of working in his studio located at the back of his house; he starts up the old Volkswagen and drives away towards nature and inspiration. If the artist is not up for driving, he uses the age old method of travelling by heading towards his unknown destination by foot. During the war time, his journeys to the wild would constantly cross paths with angry villagers and suspicious policemen who questioned Anup’s whereabouts and intentions.

With Indian classical music playing in the background of his spacious studio, Anup wandered off to the subject of music, another of his main inspirations.

“Listening to rock music specifically Pink Floyd as a teen helped me get through those difficult years. Initially I didn’t understand a word he sang, but I loved the beat. Pink Floyd’s music and Master Oshos’s books motivated me to learn English and that’s the reason why I learnt the language,” he said smilingly.

Speaking further about his passion for music, Anup said that he played in a three piece rock band called ‘Tapas’ as a bass guitarist at one point. However, most of his peers in the art community feared that this new interest would divert his focus from art and discouraged him from pursuing it further. Nowadays, Anup jams with his son who has a keen interest in music, whenever they feel like it.

As the day came to an end, we managed to find answers to most of the questions we had but we also learned heaps more about the life and ways of Anup Vega, the artist and the human being. While we seek to know everything, we must keep in mind that the beauty of a soul is only preserved when its purity and secrets are hidden from the rest of the world.

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