Lalith Senanayake developed his passion for the visual arts during secondary school. Post-schooling, he pursued his passion for wildlife arts and architectural scrap metal sculpture. Scrap metal welded and bent in his hands form awe-inspiring sculptures that capture the beauty of animals. His immense creativity and persistence in this new medium follow many years of practice as an artist working with oils on canvas, a cartoonist, and then a layout artist at several national newspapers.
The origin story of Lalith Senanayake
Interestingly, Lalith’s father’s interest in and work of restoring cars had a profound impact on his psyche. He spent his early years hanging around his father and assisting him with his work. In doing so he constantly found new ways and unique angles of looking at mundane materials like springs, wires, and the vast array of odd discarded vehicle parts.
Initially, Lalith played with wires, indulging in trying to create what he calls “kid stuff”. His inclination to like and see forms in these unconventional materials was the seed which eventually grew into his work with scrap metal sculpture today. His forays into sculpture, wrangling metal for the structural strength of his work, invoked in him the thought of working purely on metal and other materials available. Thus began an arduous search for material. When hunting for materials, his brother eventually began to help by helping transport Lalith’s ‘stuff’.
From there, on a steep learning curve, fusing different metals and numerous materials grew into a passion and profession. As a person, Lalith is soft-spoken and unassuming with a deep and caring personality. His approach, both to life and his work, is vagabond-like, venturing into spaces few others would and indulging in many projects. Lalith is an outright artist of many spheres. His experiences are astounding – from painting ancient temple art to filmmaking, from draughtsmanship to graphic design; he has made inroads far afield, creating a space for himself and a comfort zone much sought after by artists.
An artist of many spheres
From storyboard making (Hollywood movies) to infographics and from there to becoming an acclaimed cartoonist (In 1996, he won ‘Best Cartoonist’ at the National Journalism Awards), Lalith’s forays into the art world are monumental from a Sri Lankan perspective. He has been a guest artist at numerous exhibitions and has exhibited his work at reputed galleries in many countries and his work featured in numerous journals and magazines. His work forms part of both national and private collections, locally and internationally.
In 2015 and 1016, his work was exhibited on invitation at four prestigious venues in Kuwait and Singapore. Two solo exhibitions in India on invitation (2008 and 2009) and several in Sri Lanka as well have elevated him as one of the first to explore installation art and sculpture internationally. His work is highly sought by aficionados and collectors and a plethora of assignments continue to make his creative life an adventure of sorts.
In 2019, Lalith, along with his wife and two children, reached international acclaim by creating a life-sized model of an elephant using plastic waste that had washed ashore on Sri Lanka’s western coast. Another similar project in Nilaveli Beach (a sculpture of a 150-foot-long whale) was underway before being abandoned due to the restrictions of the pandemic. If completed, it would have been the largest structure of its kind in the world.
Some of his other more famous works include the ‘LOOK,’ a bull at rest, quite possibly an all-time benchmark of Lalith’s work; the animal form in all its glory in the ‘HORSE,’ installed in Thailand; and the ‘TIME TRAVELLER’ created in 2021, which at seven feet high, presently adorns the city of Chengdu in China. More elaborate work is in national as well as private collections.
Lalith is despondent about the art scene in Sri Lanka, which has faced great challenges these last few years and is looking to revive and celebrate Sri Lankan art by creating new platforms for both upcoming artists as well as artists of the past whose contributions have faded into obscurity.