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rahju: the life of an artist hermit

Rahju with his paintings

One of our favorite experiences in Sri Lanka is having a cup of tea with Rahju, an individual known for his riveting personality. Rahju lives in his serene abode on top of a mountain with breathtaking views of Kandy. Known to live his life like a hermit, he is masterful painter, musician and practitioner of yoga and meditation 🧘🏻‍♀️ A scintillating conversation with Rahju over a cup of tea is a definitive must for anyone visiting Kandy.

Rahju leads a spare, unmechanized life in a Kandyan village that, with it’s unselfconscious integration of being and doing, recalls the natural, harmonious, down to earth ways of decades or even centuries ago. Rahju is of mixed Sri Lankan-Norwegian heritage. He spent his first ten years in Kandy, then moved close to Oslo for the next ten years, returning to Sri Lanka in 1982. This migration from East to West and back again has allowed Rahju to acquire a deep-dyed appreciation of traditional Eastern values and life, and a Western knowledge of the practice and problems of contemporary art. Perhaps his seamless integration of life and art stems from his natural familiarity with both Eastern and Western ways. Like modern Western painters from Monet and Cezanne to Jasper Johns, Rahju has found stimulation in painting the same thing over and over again. This seems less to be in order to document it’s many moods or changing aspects than to know it over and over again, as one repeatedly embraces a beloved.

While he is known primarily as a painter, Rahju is also an accomplished musician. He started playing in punk-rock outfits in Norway and went on to form the fusion rock band Tapas, what he refers to as a hobby band – a big hit in the underground rock circuit just over a decade ago, chanting well known Buddhist and Hindu gaathas to psychedelic rock-fusion arrangements. Today, he occasionally plays sitar, as a means of relaxation and an alternate outlet. For those of you haven’t heard of him, Rahju Michael Pereira is a creative recluse and spiritually centered soul living off Lewella, Kandy. His studio and home overlook the Hunas range, where we sat over multiple cups of coffee and continued one of our lengthy tête-à-têtes on painting, parenting and living against the stream.

Some of Rahju's visually appeasing paintings;

Despite Rahju’s characteristic precise, pure technique; his close up views of temple walls and doors, the folds of a carved Buddha’s robe or other architectural and sculptural features, confound our usual perspective on these things. At first we may not know what we are supposed to see: an off-center partial view of a Siva Nataraj in silhouette, the curve of part of a dagoba filling one-third of an otherwise “empty” canvas, or a distant wall seen through a doorway are abstract forms before we recognize their referents. Whatever the view, one feels an unmistakable yet indefinable poetic quality that is unlike any other painter’s work in Sri Lanka.

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