Story of a genius Doctor Painter Healer

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Dr. Shanaka Kulathunge Dr. Shanaka Kulathunge ( Pic by Chandana Wijesinghe)

Interview with Dr. Shanaka Kulathunge

“There is a clear distinction between how the society treats a doctor and an artist,” says Dr. Shanaka Kulathunge, a young medical doctor who is currently practicing at the Pediatric Nephrology Unit of the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital, Colombo. “As I am a person who belongs to both the categories I have first handedly experienced the difference,” he added. Although he is a medical officer by profession, he is also a great painter who is willing to help out mankind through his art work while being a doctor. He admitted that some people in society try to look down upon artistes, undermining them. “Yet, people who know the value of art respects artists in a similar manner they would respect any other ‘high class’ profession. Sadly, not many know the value of art,” he stressed.

Kulathunge received his formal education from Koswatte, MDH Jayawardena College and received the opportunity to attend Royal College, Colombo for the Advanced Level Examination. Although his main interest was to paint, he believed that choosing science subjects for higher studies would be a wise decision. He admired the support he received from his family that his parents never prohibited him from mastering art. Passing his Advanced Level examinations he entered Colombo Medical Faculty in 2002. In 2009 he received his first appointment as an intern at Nagoda Hospital. He said that the experiences he had at Chettikulam Base Hospital in Vavuniya have a great influence on his art work.
He said he was never too busy to spend time experimenting with paint. In school or at the University and even today, as a doctor, he finds enough time to be spent with paint and canvas. As a young boy he was curious about the great painters and wanted to study what made them so good. To satisfy this curiosity he first went to study art under artist Lional Ranaweera. Later he joined Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts and further studied art under Chandraguptha Thenuwara. Under the guidance of both the masters he learned the sensitivity of a painting and how compassionate an artist can be. of these gurus have made him realize that the responsibility of an artist should be to emphasize the humane qualities of the society through his work of art. “My work of art is to give the society the message of humanity. An artist can use his art work to remind society about its lost values,” he said.  He also said that he finds drawing and painting as great methods of relaxation which he also considers as powerful mediums of expressing himself. “It’s true what artists say about how painting is like meditation,” he reassured.

Among Kulathunge’s paintings, the most prominent ones are the human figures. He uses brush strokes to highlight human emotions as well as the beauty of the surrounding environment. As he mentioned earlier, his drawings, based on the experiences in Chettikulam, have an extraordinary potential of telling the story behind it. He has mastered several drawing mediums. His drawings are in varieties of mediums including watercolors, oil paint, acrylic paint, charcoal and even simple pencil sketches. Most importantly, he himself ardently enjoys his art work. 

Kulathunge pointed out that either the market or the education facilities for art are not entirely satisfactory in the country. As he says the success of studying art or selling one’s art work depends completely on the commitment of the individual. “Not that there are no good institutes. There are, but only a very few,” he expressed his grief adding that these few places are also limited to Colombo. He believes that facilities to improve the standards of art in the country can be thoroughly enhanced.

This young doctor has another wish; a wish to hold a solo exhibition in the near future. Although he was recognized as a talented artist and has won a number of awards and appreciations for his work since he was very young, he said that it was hard for him to collect art work or the time for a solo exhibition. “I only could exhibit my work at group exhibitions. I think now it is time to prepare for a solo exhibition,” he said with anticipation.

Amongst his clients, he said, the majority comes from the online market. He further said that today internet; including social media has the potential to promote art more than contemporary mainstream media. “Most of my clients; both local and foreign are people who recognized me through the internet or who contact me because a former client recommended my work,” he said. He also said that once an artist builds up a client base, the demand will be stable and high. “In my case, the time I can spend on commission based work is limited. I can only cater to a limited demand since I have to spend most of my time at the hospital. I paint whenever I find the time,” he said. 

“It would have been great if I could be a full-time painter,” he said. “Yet, I have no regrets that I became a medical doctor. Both professions let me heal the wounded in one way or the other giving me opportunity to take pleasure in both,” he further said adding with a smile, “Maybe one day, when I retire I will become a full-time painter”.

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