By Dimithri Wijesinghe
This week, we caught up with Geshany Balder, the hottest new talent in town who has definitely gone under the radar as, more often than not, she prefers taking a backseat, letting her work speak for themselves.
Geshany is responsible for the majority of Instagram posts Colombo people put up on a regular basis; she has done nearly every “Insta worthy” mural art in and about Colombo.
A surprisingly vibrant and extremely bubbly creator, Geshany is an absolute delight, and we managed to catch her just before she stepped into a busy work week after a bout of influenza she is still somewhat recovering from.
While her work such as the caving in 3D mural at Isso, Café Kumbuk’s famous lettering, and the pasteli understated old man’s head at The Four Leafed Clover have been around for some time now, her latest project is sure to stun and amaze many people, especially as it is a voluntary contribution; she is contributing in the form of art towards Shehaan Thahir’s #itswellabecah project where he set off to clean and beautify the Wellawatte beach, thereby making it a tourist hot spot.
Geshany is set to begin work on the mural this week, and she is currently interviewing young artists to help her paint the eight walls at the Kinross Swimming Club. Speaking about the experience, she said: “I have been meaning to involve an assistant, and we have been interviewing a number of them. What’s really been surprising is how I have stressed on what I want to these girls, but not many have been delivering on my brief.”
She added that people, especially artists, struggle with taking direction. Further explaining, she said that even though her vision for the mural at the Wellwatte beach is colourful and joyful, depicting what ought to be a positive message, the artists have returned with dark and gloomy messages of dead fish despite her brief and repeated requests to make it “colourful, colourful; positive, positive”.
She said that in addition to being able to work in different styles, her ability to take directions was one feature that allowed her to thrive as a mural artist. She believes that her time abroad in Germany studying communication design and her time in the advertising industry really helped her in her art and the way she does her business. Even though she chose to study communications because people discouraged her from studying art as it often “has no prospects”, she believes that the knowledge she gained was immeasurable.
Having been in advertising, Geshany is no stranger to taking directions. “I think I am good at delivering what someone wants, more than (doing) what I think is right,” she said, adding that she loves to meet her clients before she takes on a job, so that she can better understand who they are and what their style is.
Merging a client’s vision to what your artistic sensibilities tell you is a collaborative effort, she said. However, at the end of the day, it is the client’s painting and they are the ones to be around it. So while she does her best to make sure she does a good job, the client’s vision always comes first.
Yet another thing that we often do not realise is that mural painting is an extremely tiring physical job. It is not so that Gehsany comes up with the concept and commissions someone else to execute it; she herself gets up on scaffolding and paints for days on end to get it right.
“Most places are fully under construction when I am working; there are construction guys walking everywhere, there’s debris, and there is dust,” she shared. And truly, we had trouble picturing this dainty figure hard at work high up on a ladder, surrounded by construction material.
She said on some days, it is so physically taxing that she is unable to move her body. She did get to a point where she told her manager to give her a few days off after every job for her to recover because if not, it was far too physically draining.
This has led her to plan for the future; she stated that she may take this full year, quit mural painting all together, and move on to other creative things such as cushion covers, homeware, etc. as she hopes to start a company soon. She may then commission a few assistants to continue her work as a mural artist under her guidance. However, she herself may be hanging up the brushes pretty soon on that front.
From her very first project at Café Kumbuk and then Zepher in Mirissa, and then with the demand suddenly blowing up so much that everybody wanted a mural, Geshany has come a long a way. From being a struggling artist, having quit her cushy job in advertising to pursue her passion, going from one project to the other, experiencing dry spells that kept her from paying rent, visiting her family in Negombo, and sometimes not being able to afford dinner, Gehsany persevered and her hard work paid off.
She says with great pride that it was only very recently that she was finally able to get steady work – to be able to afford a break once in a while. She advises all aspiring artists that “if you wish to be your own boss and not have a standard nine-to-five job, you really have to work hard, and there are sacrifices to be made”, but she assures that if you are certain it is what you want, it will be worth it.
Gehsany is a strong believer of mindful living and positive thinking. She says that there was a time in her career where she though it was too much. However, one day, it dawned on her that she is so incredibly blessed as she is able to go to work every morning to do what she loves – she gets to paint for a living, what is she complaining about? And so, she says with great conviction, that from that day onwards, she started to get steady jobs and she believes what was missing was that belief and trust.
Photos Eshan Dasanayaka