Senaka was born on 20 March 1951 in an illustrious family of Sri Lanka, which produced two Prime
Ministers. He was hailed as a child prodigy and soon proved that the spontaneity of his work and his
vigorous depiction of Sri Lankan life needed no kind of political patronage. His art was anchored in
Buddhist thought and was a celebration of his country’s flora and fauna. Often compared to Mozart’s
childhood genius in music, he redeemed his early promise and went on to become one of the most soughtafter
painters of Asia, crossing international boundaries, a mystifying combination of technical skill and a
dewy eyed child looking at life around him as if for the first time. Senaka became a cultural ambassador
holding up a many splendored mirror to his country.
He graduated from Yale University in 1972 and returned to Sri Lanka to continue painting. He has held over
a hundred one-man exhibitions in over 18 countries spanning the five continents. His works hang in the
White House, the UN building in New York, in museums, private collections and corporate headquarters of
multinationals around the world. Belonging to a younger generation of artists widely acknowledged as
possessing a keen sense of line, colour and composition, Senaka’s imaginative skills has helped him to take a
new direction, breaking into new grounds of creativity. At the age of 14, Senaka clambered up the steps of the
White House in Washington D.C. His painting The Outer Harbour Colombo adorned the walls of the
place to keep company with a number of masterpieces of the past and present. He went on to become the
most accomplished and famous artist Sri Lanka has ever produced. Speaking of young Senaka his mother
said, “When Senaka was barely two years old, I realized he had tremendous powers of observation. He would
walk around the garden examining flowers and leaves, often feeling the shape and texture with his hands. By
the time he was two and a half years old he was able to read and write in both English and Sinhala. He was
extremely sensitive to people around him and deeply concerned about people less fortunate than himself.”
His artistic talent has became apparent at a very young age. He was five years old when he commenced his
formal education at Royal College, Colombo.
When he was barely six years old, his class teacher Mrs. Gertrude Sugathapala summoned his mother to
school. Concerned that her son had got into some mischief she rushed to school and was relieved to find that
the teacher was all smiles. She showed Mrs. Senanayakae a large painting, nearly 20 feet long, stretching
across the length of the classroom which Senaka had painted by himself. She was astounded by his talent.
This first display of special gift became one of the turning points in the young Senaka’s life.
He completed large paintings each day after school and by the end of the year, over a hundred paintings were
ready so Senaka’s parents invited L.P Goonatilleke, a well known journalist and art critic to evaluate his
work. He was so impressed that he immediately persuaded the Ceylon Society of Arts, the oldest art
institution in Sri Lanka to organize a solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery. And thus, on the 27th of
March, 1959, the 8-year old painter, was formally born.
What was interesting about Senaka’s work at this juncture was that there was nothing to suggest that the
work was done by a child artist. He subjects he chose , the manner in which he depicted the human body and
other figures all showed the maturity and mind of an adult. It was therefore, natural that there were many
who thought that the paintings were not really Senaka’s work. One among them was Dr. Emil Van
Konigenenberg, the Dutch Vice-President of KLM. To dispel his doubts, he was invited to the Senanayake
residence to watch young Senaka paint. So impressed was he that he promised to send him the best art
materials in the world from Holland — a promise he faithfully kept for over 15 years, and a gesture which
played an important role in Senaka’s growth as a painter in those years. Over the next few years, he received a
great deal of attention and appreciation for his work around the world.
Although he painted copiously and held many shows both in his native country as well as abroad, it was only
after he went to Yale University for graduation in Art and Architecture did he realize that his true calling lay
in the field of art. For the past decade, Senanayake has concentrated his art as a medium for environmental
advocacy: depicting beautiful scenes from the rainforest to promote public awareness of environmental
degradation in his native Sri Lanka and around the world. Senanayake's work shows a fervent passion for
nature's beauty and a great knowledge of the flora and fauna of the rainforest. His work has been shown at
most parts of Europe and South Asia with critical acclaim. Till date he has more than 100 solo shows to his
credit, and numerous group shows in the countries of Europe, China, Australia, Japan, Singapore,
Czechoslovakia, Korea and Egypt to name a few. His work has been documented by Metro Goldwyn,
British Movietone News, BBC TV, London, Yeo Soo TV, South Korea, TV Austria, and Star TV, India.
Various journals, magazines and newspapers such as The New York Sunday Times, Washington Post,
London Times, Weser Kurier, Germany, UNESCO Features, Paris, National Geographic Magazine, Asia
Week and many others, have devoted their mediums to document Senaka’s work. He Lives and works in Sri
Excerpt from the book Senaka by Harsha Bhatkal, published by Vijitha Yapa Publications and Prakashan
Pvt. Ltd, 2008.