Down under through an artist’s lens

Raja Segar
February 9, 2022

Before the advent of digital communication, there was a time when sending greeting cards by post was very popular. I begun making my own greeting cards with paintings depicting daily scenes of life in Sri Lanka and I was able to make my passion a commercial success over the years.

The greeting cards made in Sydney
The greeting cards made in Sydney
The greeting cards made in Sydney

I had my 6th solo exhibition at Lionel Wendt Art Gallery in Colombo and was lucky to have had the 15 th High Commissioner of Australia to Sri Lanka, H.E. Ms. Tonia Shand grace the gallery as Chief Guest. It was the beginning of a long and close relationship between the two of us.

A few months later, I came to Australia for my 9th solo exhibition in Mosman, Sydney. I must say that if Earth was paradise, then Mosman was definitely its capital! To finance my exhibition, I tried to sell my greeting cards through supportive bookshops in Sydney. However, after visiting the bookshops about a week later I was disappointed to find all my cards laying intact on the racks. I then immediately realised that the reason for this was because Australians were not familiar with Sri Lanka’s complex culture. Despite Sri Lanka’s popularity in Cricket, only a few Australians knew more about the island-nation.

The most memorable moment of my trip was visiting Savill Galleries in Paddington to view the works of the renowned Australian artist and my dear acquaintance, Donald Friend. Unfortunately, Donald had passed away just months before I landed in Sydney. Nevertheless, I reflected fondly on the pleasure of hosting Donald for three months at Brief Garden, by Brevis Bawa located in Beruwala. The paintings he completed there became so popular that they are displayed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. With the help of my Minolta XD-7, I took many photographs of Sydney life to my heart’s content. Afterwards like my hobby back at home, I made card-sized water-colour paintings inspired by those photographs taken in Sydney. I painted the Opera House, Volkswagen Beetle cars and the Harbour Bridge to name a few. The strategy worked and my new cards flew off the shelves. To me, this was a wonderful example of the warmth Sri Lankans have for Australia and its lifestyle.

With Tonia Shand at Lionel Wendt art gallery and letter i received from SriLanka
With Tonia Shand at Lionel Wendt art gallery and letter i received from SriLanka

I had a heart-warming moment when I saw Angela (the lady from the bookshop where I sold my cards) standing out in the rain under her umbrella the day I was packing my luggage to return home. She told me that all of my cards had sold out and she was after more! Maybe that appreciation was there after all! Angela was heartbroken to hear my departure and that I would not settle in Australia: Australians are indeed naturally warm and welcoming, and there is something captivating about the country. But I always felt that my duty lay in Sri Lanka.

In 2021, I heard of the passing of my dear friend, former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka HE Mrs Tonia Shand. I immediately took it upon myself to paint a work in tribute to her. I was proud to unveil the painting at an intimate event early in 2021, alongside HE David Holly and other friends of Tonia. Memories of my fond interactions with her continuously flooded into my mind during that pleasant event. The painting is now displayed in the Shand Room of the Australian High Commission premises, which was named after her and her contributions.

In my years of experience as an artist I can vouch that it is wrong to assume, you open the gates to paradise after you are successful in life because when you look back, your journey to success has been through paradise itself!