Portrait of a Lady.  1929
Oil on canvas.  58 x 49 cm
The Serendib Gallery Collection

 

Jameelah.  Undated
Oil on canvas.  59 x 45 cm

HARRY PIERIS

1904 - 1988

   Retrospective Exhibition

To the viewer it would seem that Harry Pieris' landscapes and portraits help to mollify the effect created by works such as those of Justin Deraniyagala at this exhibition with what would superficially look like a felicitous marriage between uncompromising modernity and traditional civility.  Bit Harry Pieris' major influence on two young members of the '43 Group whose work we also see at this exhibition - Ivan Pieris' and Richard Gabriel's has not been to stimulate conformity, but its very opposite.

Cervantes mentions a painter, busy with brush and canvas, who was asked what he was painting and replied "whatever it turns out to be".  This describes Harry Pieris' method especially in portrait painting.  In his portraits his sole aim was to create a work of art, verisimilitude was not his goal.  How our perception of the natural environment relates to inner ideas, feelings and beliefs, how artists depict landscapes and people in the light of such factors - inner and outer, or interior and exterior - complex issues of how our perception relate to our inner beings, and how viewers respond to their depictions on canvas were his main preoccupations.  This predilection of his he passed on to his pupils, Ivan Peries and Richard Gabriel.  The lifelong power of a place, Dehiwela and the sea-side, for these two artists has a parallel in Harry Pieris'' fascination with trees and Colombo's tree-lined roads.

In the sharply realised and textured early landscapes we see very clearly that this artist has taken from his subject only that which properly belongs to his art, a perception of simple perfection rejecting any other demands except the most self-contained technical ones - progressions and the rhythmic suffusion of a few colours, where the medium is also the message.  This trait manifests itself even more clearly in the work of Ivan Peries and Richard Gabriel.

Realistic, illusionistic art had dissembled the medium using art to conceal art.   Modernism used art to call attention to art through the very limitations that constitute the medium of painting - the flat surface, the properties of the pigment etc.   Pieris took this into account and insisted on his freedom to create works of art.   He knew that in reality a portrait is a portrait only for as long as the sitter is alive but once he and his generation have disappeared the portrait is free to become a picture with its own independent existence.

Prof. S B Dissanayake