The Lost Collection by Laki Senanayake

Drawings & Paintings between 1971 and 1978
Exhibition from the 2nd to the 14th of September 2016.

This priceless collection of 73 drawings and paintings were done between 1971 and 1978. Completely forgotten by Laki Senanayake, they vanished into a black hole of his memory, and amazingly resurfaced in 2015, thanks to the internet.

In 1974 Laki was visited by Lady Olga Cannon, the wife of a British Labour Peer. While visiting the island she had asked to meet local artists and was introduced to Laki who at the time was living in a commune farm in Dambulla. Lady Olga stayed several weeks at the commune watching Laki dig the fields every day, and returning to draw and paint in the night. 

Recognising the genius of Laki’s art work, she very kindly offered him 6000 rupees and advised him to spend his entire time painting. Laki not wishing to accept such a large sum for gratis gave her 6 large drawings of trees as a gift. She also commissioned him to do illustrations for a translation of the Indian Panchatantra folk tales she was writing for children, for the handsome sum of 400 pounds.

She also suggested that his drawings should be published as a collection of botanical and landscape drawings, and knowing the well known novelist, Grahame Greene, who was a director of a prestigious publishing house at the time, was confident of getting them published. She took the drawings back with her and showed them to the publishers who liked the drawings very much, but said it needed a text. Laki, being an idealist, refused to do this. He wanted to have a book to look at rather than to read. Lady Olga tried several other publishers with no favourable result.

As time went by they lost touch. Laki later learned she had moved to Granada and with the passage of time Laki completely forgot that the drawings existed.

As luck would have it, she had bequeathed the entire collection to her daughter- in-law, Diane Cannon, who happened to see the name “Laki “mentioned on the website of a friend of Laki’s who contacted her and eventually tracked Laki down. Laki bought the collection.

Laki, born in 1937, has been painting and drawing since the age of three. Laki is an imaginative artist of genius in many fields and one of the focal figures of Sri Lankan creative art. He belongs to the generation that emerged in the 1950s, a period as innovative and creative in Sri Lankan art, literature, music, theatre and film as any that has followed since. 

Almost from boyhood he worked closely with the great artists of the time, the Australian artist Donald Friend, architects Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner, Valentine Gunasekara, landscape designer Bevis Bawa, fabric designers Ena de Silva and Barbara Sansoni and thinkers and writers such as Reggie Siriwardena and Senator R Nadesan.

His art ranges from abstract to natural, from Surrealist to Cubist, in media that range from silkscreen printing to papier mache. Laki’s output represents the richness of Sri Lankan life and experience in a matching diversity and richness of expression.

His spontaneous approach to drawing, subjects and techniques have outraged convention many times, and repeatedly served as a liberating influence on the younger generations. 

His work includes painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, agriculture, landscape gardening, silk screen printing, batik, dyeing, book illustration, currency design, poetry and inventions of various sorts and digital art. He created many sculptures and murals for Geoffrey Bawa’s buildings.

He lives in Diyabubula, a water garden in Dambulla, along with a large variety of wild life including monkeys, many species of birds, otters, monitor lizards, mouse deer, snakes and a crocodile.