Pulasthi Handuge | ARTRA’s Emerging Artist Best of 2020

Born and raised in the mountainous region of Kandy, Pulasthi Handuge is a rapidly rising name in the Sri Lankan contemporary art scene. As one of the artists under ARTRA Collection, Pulasthi has been identified for his distinctive watercolour style and his ability to seamlessly translate arresting themes through the visual motifs of his art. Pulasthi completed his education at the City School of Architecture in Colombo with a Bachelors of Architecture in 2019, and is a practitioner who straddles the lines between artist and architect in his professional life. 

Pulasthi’s robust artistry first captured ARTRA’s eye in 2020, when he distinguished himself among the rising talents featured in ARTRA Canvas’ debut exhibition, which spotlighted the works of artists from all nine provinces across the country as they translated their responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic into art. His exhibition ‘Poetry Of The Sri Lankan Eyes’ poignantly humanized the harrowing grief and society’s dissemination in the face of the pandemic through a series of haunting paintings. Rendered in watercolour, ink and acrylic, the paintings were washed in black and greys upon newspaper canvases, Pulasthi demonstrated a keen ability to visually capture the viewer, while evoking a succinct and thoughtful social criticism through his pictorial narration. 

Since then, Pulasthi has been integrated into the ARTRA Collection as the Emerging Artist | Best of 2020.  Evolving from his collection ‘Poetry Of The Sri Lankan Eyes’, he continues to convey socially-critical narratives in his fluid watercolour style in his latest collection ‘Reflections’. Debuting at the Art Trail, Galle Literary Festival 2024, Pulasthi’s latest works are a rich collection of paintings that delve into his nuanced reflections of Sri Lanka’s recent economic crisis. With vibrant renditions of endemic Sri Lankan birds as the focal point of each painting, he broaches a layered and complex discourse consequential to dire economic collapse– forced migration. With rising inflation and escalating economic instability, Pulasthi conveys the ever-increasing societal pressure to emigrate amidst the mass exodus of his fellow countrymen fleeing an uncertain future. To find out more about ARTRA’s partnership with the Galle Literary Festival 2024 and our Art Trail success, read here

Meticulously wielding ink and charcoal between layers of watercolour washes, Pulasthi presents distinct portraits of Sri Lankan birds amidst swathes of blacks, greys and alluring pops of vermillion and green. He maintains a deep conviction in spotlighting the country’s local avian wildlife, celebrating his profound connection to the unique bounty of Sri Lanka’s natural landscape. Spotlighting species such as the orange billed babbler, crimson-backed flameback, red face malkoha and more, Pulasthi brings the beauty of Sri Lanka’s indigenous biodiversity into the forefront of his collection ‘Reflections’, grounding his nostalgia and pride to stay in the country amidst uncertainty to its unique and abundant natural world. With bold and bright visual motifs of birds endemic to Sri Lanka, he cleverly plays with metaphor; evoking images of avian migratory flight to parallel his pictorial commentary on mass exodus and migration.

 Simultaneously, he depicts haunting symbols hidden beneath the initial vibrancy of his present collection, evoking dual themes of birth and death through juxtaposed imagery. He foregrounds vivid symbols of nascent life, depicting symbols of birds in varied stages of young life, from developing embryos and umbilical cords to hatchlings. He strikingly juxtaposed these with haunting visuals of death rendered in grey and ink-black, jarringly hiding ill-omens of shadowed bird skulls within his broad strokes of fluid watercolour feathers. This grave dichotomy threaded through his works in ‘Reflections’ continues his characteristic tradition of evoking poignancy through his visual motifs in the name of effectively impacting social consciousness. He masterfully balances themes such as birth and rot as well as beginnings and endings in an articulate translation of his internal conflict amidst the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s economic upheaval. Through the arresting voice of his art, Pulasthi conveys the common man’s helpless struggle in dire times of strife, between the death of a doomed future and the desperate renewal of an uncertain beginning. To view his catalog of works, as well as those of our Emerging Artist under ARTRA Collection click here

ARTRA Collection was formulated to showcase Sri Lankan contemporary art in a curated format across public spaces. It showcases Emerging Artists from regions outside of the focal artistic hemisphere of Colombo, in an effort to cultivate regional epicentres of art across the country, where a diverse range of artists can voice their alternate narratives of the story of Sri Lanka. Each artist under the ARTRA Collection was selected under a rigorous criteria including strength of concept, articulation and execution, professionalism and unique identity. To read more about the vision behind the ARTRA Collection and the rest of our roster of Emerging Artists, click here

Pulasthi Handuge debuted his first solo exhibition ‘Rhythm of Strokes’ in 2010, and has participated in several group exhibitions such as those held at the Alliance Francaise de Kandy from 2006 to 2008. In 2019, he exhibited in Kala Pola, and he was featured in ARTRA Magazine’s Best Emerging Artists of 2020. This year, he participated in the Art Trail during The Galle Literary Festival, showcasing his works on a national scale alongside ARTRA’s Emerging Artists | Best of 2022 & 2023, and his works featured in ARTRA Magazine’s latest edition ‘Galle Fort in the Contemporary’ e66. His works are currently exhibited in the Galle Fort Hotel, No. 28, Church Street, Galle Fort.

Written by Kavinu Cooray

14th April, 2024 Visual Art | Paintings