ÀNI Art Academies, Sri Lanka

H.G. Sasitha Madusanka, ‘I am Sentient’, artwork courtsey : Ani Art Academies 

Nestled in a leafy hillside in Matara is one of Sri Lanka’s best kept art secrets. There are no larger-than-life billboards shouting ÀNI Art Academies presence. Driving along the quiet forest road, it’s easy to miss the six-building campus, designed to blend unobtrusively over five acres into the natural environment. Yet, within its walls, artistry is being created by students, who are referred to as apprentices, as they enter the first stages of a lifetime pursuit of mastery, learning figurative art forms that are unknown in Sri Lanka today.

ÀNI Art Academies is a non-profit organization that provides an intensive multi-year art skills education to aspiring artists around the world. Utilizing the highly successful training system developed by artist Anthony J. Waichulis, the ÀNI Art Academies Program is designed to promote creative freedom through logic and discipline. Since 1998, Anthony Waichulis has been training artists who are responsible for some of the most breathtaking realist drawings and paintings of today. Works by Waichulis Apprentices have been celebrated by critics and collectors alike. Their endeavors populate the walls of prestigious galleries throughout the US, appear regularly in top national publications, and receive numerous accolades and awards. Rich with depth, populated with lush textures, and demonstrating remarkable accuracy, these works continue to captivate audiences. In 2010, The Waichulis Studio was approached by a newly forming entity with aspirations for an educational effort on a global scale. This new entity, The ÀNI Art Academies was the brainchild of Mr. Tim Reynolds, co-founder of a thriving Wall Street trading firm, passionate artist, patron of the arts, and founder of The Tim Reynolds Foundation. Mr. Reynolds felt that placing some of the strongest artistic training into the hands of many aspiring artists around the world would give rise to a generation of creatives capable of contributing exciting new ideas, sharing robust cultures, and pioneering new means of connection and communication through expression on a scale which is not seen before. The name ‘ÀNI‘ was chosen to represent this massive undertaking as it is a play on the Swahili word ‘Andjani’, meaning the “road” or the “path ahead”. With Mr. Reynold’s inspiring vision in place, The Waichulis Studio merged with The Ani Art Academy project to create a new entity with far more resources and opportunities for aspiring artists today, The ÀNI Art Academies Waichulis.

“Effort Creates Talent” is written above the studio entrance to remind the class that their commitment to the process rather than any natural talent is what pays dividends. “We encourage them to create within the parameters of the competencies. So, whilst there are rules and principles on the competencies, there are no rules on the creative element of the programme. Early exposure to free thinking, in school primes you to think creatively. Some countries – England for example are good at letting children experiment and make mistakes without being bound by restrictive definitions of what is considered ‘art’. That freedom generates interesting artistic voices. But if you have never had that freedom and suddenly you come to a class like this, where you must make all the decisions about your subject, you struggle having never been exposed to that decision-making before. Apprentices are often timid about their choices, and I have to encourage bolder experimentation in developing their ideas. If an apprentice wants to create sci-fi illustrations or pretty girls, I don’t make any judgements as long as it is appropriate. What we do here is teach them how to conform to the principles of the skills they need to draw, then we let them go and create. We’re teaching them to flow between the realms of conformity and creativity. 

Over the last 4 years Dean Jahn has started to see his students independently flex creative muscles and develop originality. “Apprentices need to develop some sort of creative voice and go beyond the rudiments of just being able to draw a really good picture. They need to take the subject or the visual format and push it to a different level by evolving it, perhaps narratively or historically for example. They need to decide what kind of story they want to tell. I mentor them individually through one-to-one conversations about their specific projects.”

A representational fine artist/educator, himself, Timothy Jahn graduated from New Jersey’s duCret School of Art in the US, where he later taught. Still creating his own art whilst he teaches, Jahn finds that teaching has a massive positive effect on his own work, “When apprentices ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I tell them that I don’t know, but I’ll find out for them, and I learn myself in the process. Whilst teaching at duCret I had a student who wanted to learn about trompe l’oeil. Not knowing much about it myself, I reached out to Anthony Waichulis and asked if I could bring my students to see his work.”

That field trip led to Jahn himself becoming Waichulis’s apprentice. The impact of the Waichulis Method on his own work, led to him connecting Waichulis with the Founder of ÀNI Art Academies, Tim Reynolds to create this non-profit arts education programme for aspiring artists around the world. The Academy currently has six international campuses: ÀNI America and Waichulis in the U.S. and Thailand, Sri Lanka and Anguilla, where Jahn was the former Dean.

“Before an apprentice even picks up a pencil, they are taught the discipline of how to set up and care for their tools, their easels and their space.” Dean Jahn explains. This methodology of teaching art to inculcate valuable life lessons, was developed by American contemporary fine artist and educator Anthony J. Waichulis. Apprentices start learning fundamentals like how to properly hold a pencil and competently draw a straight line. They progress to perfecting the execution of other shapes: spheres, cones, and cubes etc. and understanding the principles of light, draftsmanship and visual perception. The level of competency in these fundamentals can take years to achieve, but Dean Jahn explains that this is the key to creating fine art to the level of excellence that ÀNI Academies are known for.

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23rd February, 2022 Visual Art | Paintings