Solius Mendis, the Artist and Sculptor
A description of Kelani Vihara cannot be complete without speaking of the talented painter who turned it into a gallery of Sinhala art.
Mrs. Helena Wijewardene, having decided upon the restoration work, was looking out for an artist with creative talents to draw the murals at Kelaniya. It was then, that she came to know of Solius Mendis, the young artist from Madampe in Negombo. By that time he had already gained a name as an artist of temple painting. He was soon sent for and selected for the noble task. But before he commenced his work she sent him on a study tour. He was first sent to Ajantha and Ellora in India, and later to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. He studied all that was there to study in oriental art. When he returned from his tour he was entrusted with the work of the murals.
Using the knowledge he had gained from his tours, he began his work. But before he commenced the murals at Kelaniya, he was allowed to do some paintings at Lenagampola Vihara at Pahala Mapitigama, as a trial attempt. It was a great success. And then he began the work on the murals at Kelaniya. It took him nearly twenty years to complete the work that he was destined to accomplish.
He created a style of his own. He made his own plaster and paints with local organic and vegetable matter. At first sight one would say that these murals are similar to those at Ajantha and Sigiriya. Yet they are different, for they represent a style of their own. It is a blend of eastern art touched with a novel style created by Solius Mendis. The way he has created the figures in the murals is superb.
His brush has breathed life into these figures and made them live before our eyes. He has used the method of lineation to marvellous effect. Bends and curves, light and shade, the glare and the gloom, have all been brought to effect simply by thinning, thickening or coiling the lines drawn by the brush.
In short the murals at Kelani Vihara are unique. They are peculiar to Kelaniya, and Kelaniya alone. Like those of Ajantha and Sigiriya the frescoes at Kelaniya can be identified as a class by themselves, second to none. They are indeed, the portrayals of the inborn talents of a genius.
All lovers of art owe a great debt to Solius Mendis the gifted Sinhala artist for his work at Kelaniya. These mural paintings in the new chambers arouse fervour in the heart of the religious and patriotism in the heart of the nation at large.