21 August 2023

Meditation on tree-art

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 200th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

All things natural, one may argue, are works of art. Of course if one were to go with the formal definition of art, you would have to throw that one out. A waterfall, a valley swept with flowers of exquisite colour, mist-laden mountains, cloud formations and a rainbow are certainly not ‘expressions or applications of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’

We can however submit poetic license, plead a case for the use of metaphor and insist, ‘all things natural are indeed works of art.’  

This is about ‘tree art’ of which there can be many forms if one were to stretch definitions a little. A few decades ago, for example, there was quite a devotional rush when someone discovered ‘deva roopa’ or god-like figures materialised on a bo tree in Kuliyapitiya.  I remember visiting the place and noticing the lucrative commerce that was taking place around the particular temple. I was one of at least a hundred visitors that day and I was told that there had been several times that number on certain days.  

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. God too, at least in this case. Look hard enough and you can see all kinds of things on tree trunks. You can be convinced that the clouds above look like a dog or a temple or anything you like.

So it wasn’t tree-art. It was eye-art. Human creativity and imagination doing its work. Overtime, one might add.  

But there’s a different kind of tree art, the kind where the artist sees a piece of driftwood, a branch of a tree or some peculiarity at a fork, imagines what it could be made to look like and proceeds to work his or her magic. They turn out all kinds of fascinating images, these artists. Tree-art and tree-artists.

Then there’s the tree art of those who extract tree-detail using a camera and offering incredible black and white images. And then there’s the tree art of Gamini Abeykoon.  

I could stop here. I invite the reader to consider his line art and let the imagination fill in colour gaps, flesh-in contexts and histories, project futures of inevitability, and meditate on the eternal verities, the jati, jara and marana of all things, trees, tree-art, tree-artists, connoisseurs of tree-art and the thoughts birthed in mind and feelings burnt on heart thereafter.  

And now, if so inclined, here is what Gamini Aiya’s tree-art inscribed on me:

Innumerability. There are no full stops, but there are other punctuation marks. There’s comma, colon, semi-colon, exclamation and query. There is no beginning one can put a finger on. There is no end point one can visualise. There’s rise and fall. Birth and decay. Triumphs that journey towards defeat. The barren that will not forbid seed and seed that mark presence as sapling. Competition among foliage. A search for the sky, the consolation of canopy, coexistence with parasites and the elemental love-hate.

Questions. What conversations took place between leaves fallen and yet to fall and are they repeated again and again by other leaves, those yet to fall and those that have returned to the primordial mother, earth? Do leaves always sing in chorus or is it that our ears are too dull to discern each distinctive voice? Is our ability to see colour actually a handicap that forbids us from extracting black and white in the fullness of detail and depth?

More questions. Did the photographer ‘see’ what was before the camera as a collage of nature’s deliberate choice of colour or in just two of them, black and white? If indeed the unknown photographer offered it in black and white, could Gamini Aiya or anyone else, you and I included, restore at least in the mind the lost or robbed colours?

Gamini Aiya has placed a signature in the bottom left corner of the painting. He is an artist. He has transcribed beautifully as has whoever clicked a camera on a particular day, at a particular time, from a particular distance and at a particular angle. Are they the only two artists here?

The seasons, rains, winds, the sun and the slow but inevitable movement yielded by the battle between roots and soil, the foot that crushed, killed or delayed the growth of a sapling or weakened a seed, the foot that fell elsewhere, insects, birds and other creatures that took or left behind in ways and volumes — how can we say that none of them caressed, grasped and in other ways helped produce this particular mix of line, curve and space?  

And we, all of us who set eyes on this image and you who happen to be reading this — aren’t we all capable of painting meaning into these lines, privileging that single leaf or this particular tribe of foliage?  

Don’t we, in the manner described above, make a community of tree-artists producing ruk-kala that few might acknowledge and fewer still will attribute to any of all of us?


Other articles in this series: 

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road