My wife went through a period of illness a couple of years ago. She is feeling much better now and to celebrate this she took me and her children on a holiday to Srilanka. We all went to stay in a villa near Galle which is on the south west coast
In 2004 Srilanka was devastated by a Tsunami. That was over ten years ago and things have Improved a great deal. There are signs of poverty but it doesnt appear to be to the terrible degree that can be found in India for instance. We were occassionally asked for money but not often and not persistently. Some say that as a tourist destination, Srilanka is the soft option alternative to India.
I loved Srilanka. It is very near the equator and so very hot, It is also very humid, even in March. The arrival time of 5.30am was 12.30 am in the UK. We had not really slept so we all spent most of the first day flat out on our beds in our rooms with the aircon on. Cooling off in ones bedroom soon became known as going to mini Devizes, refering to the cold temperatures we had just left behind at home. Nealantha, one of the staff at the villa had a tuk-tuk and he became our driver, alternating his brother and his father into the convoy with their tuk-tuks. I would be hard put to say who was the best driver.
I was keen to paint but the others all had agendas of their own so I settled into a pattern of going out fairly early in the morning. The friut market was something I spotted early on and Nelanther’s father took me there and stood next to me with his hand onthe corner of my easle to give support. When people came past he would talk them through what I was doing and small crowds gathered round to watch. I don’t speak Srilankan and he didn’t speak English so I never found out what he said but everone was very kind and the shop keeper brought me a glass of mango juice to sustain me.
My step-son is a madly keen and a most talented fisherman and one of the first things we did was to go out and buy some fishing tackle. I went on to the fish market to paint and Declan had a look to see what people had caught. It was very exciting at the market, everybody moving about, coming and going,. stall keepers spahing water about to keep the fish wet and fresh looking before wandering off to the other end of the market to chat. I managed to slap down a quick oil sketch, hoping that he looser style would help to put accross the bustle and movement of the market.
One morning I asked Nelanther to recomend somewhere to me and he suggested the budhist temple at. A sign at the bottom of the flight of stone steps asked us to remove our shoes before going to the temple. The soles of my feet burnt like a pair of beef burgers on the grill in a short order diner, the stone steps were so hot. Ouch, ouch, ouch! All the way to the top. When I got there I took my time looking around and settled down to a painting of what was reputed to be a 3000 year old ban yan tree, grown from a cutting from the tree in India that the buddah himself sat under. In Srilanka all festivals are observed reguarless of which religion the festival or celebrants are affiliated to. The day I painted was, I think, Good Friday.
I had nearly finished when someone approached me and asked me kindly to remove the hat I was wearing to keep the sun from my eyes. I had tried so hard to behave repectfully at the temple… and failed, so I upped the amount of my tip to the monks.
There was a great view of the sea from where we were staying and it included a couple of the poles that locals fish from. Early one morning I saw some boys fishing there and I did a quick painting. I had always wondered how people paint moving sea and I think I got a bit better at it while trying to do this view. The light was good and the water was clear so it was a great day to try it.
Once we had arrived at the villa we made all our outings by Tuk-tuk. It is hard to find a jollier way to travel. I long for a tuk-tuk at home, but Devizes in the winter in a tuk-tuk may be a bit tough. I asked to be taken to a tuk-tuk repair shop. Somehow I had a vision of it being a good subject for a painting. The Tuk-tuks are the drivers only source of income and they can’t afford to leave them standing idle. The repair men worked quicky, the tuk-tuks were in one minute and out the next. It was quite a challenge, the heat was a real challenge too.I was lucky that I had my guerilla painter umbrella with the silver top with me. I don’t think I could have survived without it. I had also asked for a large bottle of mineral water to be frozen for me to take on my painting trips. My feet, which were not quite in the shade of the umbrella were burning inspite of the liberal coating of sun cream I had applied so occassionally I poured a few drops of freezing water onto them. The mechanics would sometimes come and look and they seemed to like the picture which pleased me very much. There was one particularly dirty mechanic who was literally covered from head to toe in motor oil and grease and he was a real character. If he has a wife, either she must get desperate trying to clean him up or perhaps she dosn’t mind getting filthy when they kiss.
I went to visit some old friends who had moved to Srilanka about 15 years ago. There I saw my old student, Phoebe Dickinson. I had taught her when she was at St Mary’s Calne and also at the Royal Drawing School We spent a morning painting together which I greatly enjoyed. Here I the sketch I did of Phoebe painting a cow by a lake.
You can see more of her work at http://www.phoebedickinson.com/.
Srilanka was a wonderful place to paint. There are so many varied things to see, I do hope to return someday soon. The people are particularly kind and hospitable but the Chinese tourists were a something was was not prepared for. On our second day at Galle fort I was painting away when a very large groups of tourists started tio descend on me. At one point I was standing infront of an audience of 50 plus, perhaps as many as 100, watching as I worked. I would like to think that they had never seen such a great artist at work before but I think they were just a bit bored and in search of free entertainment. This ended with me being jostled out of the way of my painting by a the tourists so they could take selfies.
“Nought as queer as folk” as they say in Yorkshire.