George Keyt (1901-1993)

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George Keyt | Biography | Life 

George Keyt was the most significant painter from Sri Lanka, (formerly Ceylon), during the period of British rule over the Indian subcontinent. After completing his early studies at an English public school, Keyt immersed himself in Buddhist philosophy and literature at the Malvatte Vihare. 

He studied Sanskrit and was impressed by the sensuous Sanskrit classic Gita- Govinda. 

Keyt also lived and traveled widely in India, experiencing at first hand the finest examples of Indian painting, sculpture and folk arts. 

With his East-West links, he maintained highly individualistic imagery and pictorial vocabulary. 

There is a discernible synthesis in his work of the artistic styles of India, Europe, and Sri Lanka. As for the Indian element, one can identify stylistic and technical traits which are peculiar to the classical paintings and folk paintings of Kalighat: the importance of line, the use of pure color, use of modeling and shading, non-naturalistic perspective, decorative backgrounds, etc.
In paintings such as Damayanti and Hansa, one can notice the exquisite and delicate modeling in the nude figure of Damayanti set against flat planes of pure color, investing the female form with a fleshy voluptuousness. 

Despite adopting the cubist approach, the distortion and reassembly of natural forms, Keyt did not abandon the world of sensuality. 

He used cubist techniques, such as the multiple perspectives, emphasis on the integral relationship between foreground and background, the interpretation and transparency of planes and so on, but never at the cost of linear rhythm and the robust, brilliantly colorful world of the senses. 

His paintings on Sringara, Krishna-Lila, Nayika-Nayak Bheda and those relating to the romance of Na/a-Damayanti are expressions of the joyous themes of love. 

Keyt considered the Hindu ideal of love, as embodied in these modes and forms, as the most complete.

In an article on the art of George Keyt, Prof S B Dissanayake remarks that paradoxically, repetition acted as an agent of change in Keyt. 

In the Nayika Series of the 1940s and in his later series of Jataka Stories, Ragas, A Celebration of the Feminine, etc. Keyt turned his back on the dynamics of large-scale form which he had employed with consummate skill in the rhetorical amplification of the Gotami Murals. 

He confined himself to devising relatively small ‘modules’, sequences which could be permutated in a quite abstract way to form complex patterns filling the requisite canvas surfaces. 

It was as if George Keyt, fiercely independent in all things, was determined to reinvent artistic procedures from the ground up. And it is this hard-won free and personal vision that will survive in his art. 

Keyt said: “True painting is not a description, as there is another language for that. It is not even a definition. 

It is an emphasis in its most unequivocal form of a line, color, and shape. But to those not literate in it, painting is as meaningless as any other foreign language, though perhaps more tantalizing.” 

Keyt was confident enough to learn the artistic discoveries of modern Europe without subservience. His art brings a depth of vision and an amplitude that has rarely been evident in the art of the Indian subcontinent.


George Keyt, a centennial anthology

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