This week will see a new artist, Nalin Indrasena, take up creative residence at the Barefoot Gallery Colombo with his second solo exhibition “Talking Walls”.
Brunch chatted with Indrasena ahead of his exhibition which opens to the public on Wednesday (9).
We’ve all heard the expression, “If those walls could talk,” and Indrasena’s exhibition does link to this old expression. Having travelled the world as an international civil servant with the UN, Indrasena has been to many unusual places and war-torn areas. Always curious about the stories around these places and their historical places and monuments, Indrasena also found himself captivated by the rugged surfaces of structures in these places and the stories these structures themselves could tell, from their decay to their transformation over decades and centuries.
“It woke my senses to realise that still-standing walls or ruins can absorb the essence of places, people, and events over time, that stories could be retold, and that we can uncover a trail of such stories just by observing the state of these walls,” Indrasena explained, “I am convinced that with every generation and evolving cultures that pass, there remains a layer of beauty, memories, and hidden stories on such walls. I observed that there is much profound depth that if one could just scratch the surface, we could uncover and reveal the ‘golden’ periods of the past that once existed. I found the walls talk, while it may be hidden, the messages they convey are rich and luminous. Over time, I took photographs and notes of these historic places I have been to during my travels and work. The idea of hidden stories within the decay and the destruction of ancient walls over the centuries inspired me to express and elicit my emotional response and deep personal feelings of them through my paintings. By doing so, it is also my intention to create a sense of curiosity and allow the viewer to connect with the past impressions through my paintings.”
Indrasena has been working on “Talking Walls” for over two years. A part of “Talking Walls “is made up of an exhibition he meant to showcase in Geneva, Switzerland in March 2020. Of course, March 2020 didn’t turn out as anyone expected, and this exhibition did not come to pass. The last two years has seen Indrasena build a new collection of artwork that he has mixed with some of his artwork for Geneva to create “Talking Walls”.
An unusual medium for telling unique stories
Indrasena’s medium of choice is a mix of cold wax, oil paint, and mixed media. Cold wax is a soft paste of beeswax, mineral spirits, and resin mixed in certain proportions. Though cold wax was used in ancient times, the process was not widely known among many artists, and even to date, is an unconventional medium. Readymade cold wax is produced mainly by Gamblin or Dorlan in the US. Semi-solid but not opaque, cold wax becomes transparent once applied. In addition to using an unconventional medium, Indrasena also uses unusual tools, including palette knives, squeegees, brayers, paper (oil, tissue, and kitchen towels), and mark-making tools such as watch repair tools, pottery tools, and other miscellaneous tools that allow for interesting mark-making. When creating a painting, Indrasena also tools like paint, pigment sticks, powder, and oil bars to close incidental gaps, because he heavily edits his paintings, with the process taking him anywhere from two months to two years.
Speaking on why he works with cold wax and oil paint, Indrasena explained that it’s mainly to do with texture, saying: “There are textural varieties I can get with this that I cannot achieve purely with oil paint or acrylic paint or water colours. It just cannot be compared.”
Indrasena’s introduction to cold wax came from two artists in the US whose work he’d been following. These artists held a workshop in Italy, where he worked with the medium for the first time. “It was very interesting and intriguing, the type of impressions and the essence that you could create,” he said, recalling his first work with cold wax and what made him start using it.
Creating compelling art
What makes art most compelling to Indrasena, is that it is a form of expression, and that’s what excites him most about making art. Art, to Idrasenana, is imperfect, and perfecting that imperfection is one of the most interesting parts of the whole process. “It’s my expression of what I’m trying to tell, the expression of a particular theme in various forms, and the impact people get from viewing my art is extremely rewarding to me. It impacts each person differently, and they each have their own interpretation.”
Art also inspires a sense of curiosity and identity while relating to the stories that the art is trying to tell, especially with his art, which merges different types of textures and tensions in form while also inspiring a sense of simultaneous dynamism and tranquillity as well as a bit of suspense and stability.
“I hope people will come and enjoy it and if there are people interested in getting to know more about the medium of cold wax, I will be happy to discuss that too. I’d like to introduce this medium to Sri Lanka,” Indrasena said, speaking of “Talking Walls”, adding that he also greatly enjoys discussing the themes of his work with viewers and showing he was influenced by his research and sources.
“Talking Walls” by Nalin Indrasena will be open to the public at the Barefoot Gallery Colombo from 9 February to 27 February. For more information, please visit the Barefoot Gallery website on www.barefootceylon.com/gallery.