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Dr Milinda’s Art: A Hyde All His Own

June 28, 2010

The following article was published on Sunday Leader dated June 20th, a different version of the article was published on the Sunday Times Mirror Magazine on the same day

Dr Milinda Salpitikorala

‘As a child I drew in any blank space. I can’t stand blank spaces. I have doodled on my house walls, sketched on blank pages in my father’s law books. My school desks probably carry my drawings to this day’.

Dr Milinda Salpitikorala says this with an excited, eager tone. It is obvious he loves his craft with a zeal that is almost childlike. A few days after I interviewed him I chanced upon a quote by Pablo Picasso that applies perfectly to Milinda.

‘Every child is an artist’, Picasso said. ‘The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’

Was Picasso telling us that our sometimes juvenile need to draw and doodle, often dulled (some would say bludgeoned) as we grow up and concern ourselves with the pragmatic, is the fuel that propels the artists among us to their calling? Can some of us not lose this innocence growing up?

He recounts from his childhood memories of when the need to draw overwhelmed him. One in particular stands out. ‘I was alone with my puppy once when I was around five years old. I was bored so I started to sketch him and obviously got pretty engrossed in it that I ended up colouring the sketch. When I showed the end result to my parents, they were pretty shocked.’

Comics came after that, the edginess that typified the medium’s artwork naturally stirred him. ‘Hulk, I loved to draw him. Going from that to the stuff in the cartoons of the time – Skeletor from He-Man, another favourite – was pretty exciting.’ His gift for art quickly got him attention in school too: his mates would ask him for tattoos, drawn using marker pens, of their choosing in return for something from the canteen. ‘Usually a Cream Soda’.

His A Level years saw his art experiencing a lull of sorts. ‘I stopped drawing creatively for a long period until I got hold of an art pad one day during second year at medical school. This was after I had just learnt the anatomy of the human body in detail so I was armed with that insight.’ What followed was a creative eruption. Inspired once again, Milinda filled that art pad with visions of fantastical creatures; the winged, the fanged and the mutated. Slowly, the future Dr Milinda Salpitikorala was giving rise to his artistic alter-ego.

‘I came to realize over time that the art that comes out of me is probably the dark side of my personality. Everyone has a dark side and I am happy that I’ve learnt to channel such emotions into my art.’

Does Milinda’s Dr Jekyll have a Hyde all his own? ‘Yeah, he is called Dr 666. When he comes out, I end up drawing a lot.’ Most people read the 666 part of the pseudonym and mistakenly assume that it has Biblical connotations, specifically the devil’s number. The truth in Milinda’s case is less sinister. ‘I was born on a sixth of June at Six O Clock, 6-6-6. I put the Dr Prefix and thought it sounded just right, captured the essence of my art and the dark imagery that typifies it.’

His output since then is sadly unknown to most Sri Lankans except in the local heavy metal circuit where he enjoys cult status. ‘I love heavy metal. It is the music I listen to when I draw, it gives me immense inspiration, the soundtrack to my art. I’ve been supporting the local metal scene since 2002.’

That inspiration, though, is fast becoming a two-way street between the heavy metal community and Milinda: he is now the artist of choice for a number of Sri Lankans in heavy metal bands, all eager for ‘Dr 666’ to sketch their unique logos and artwork. ‘I’ve now done logos for Fallen Grace, a melodic death metal band and a few others. Heavy metal band logos are about making distinctive, eye-catching identities for bands. The scope for creativity is almost endless.’

That he enjoys this creative license is becoming very clear. In 2006, Rock.lk (www.rock.lk), the rock and heavy metal community website, asked for submissions of designs for their t-shirt merchandise. Milinda responded with his ‘Yakada Yaka’, a devil mask that borrows design elements from different Sri Lankan mask types from the Naga Yaka to the Gini Yaka. With its manic grin and serpentine crown, it fits right in with heavy metal’s love for morbid imagery. It is also undeniably Sri Lankan.

Sri Lankan art and mythology is, Milinda admits, a huge draw. ‘Our art and culture is very distinctive so I will continue to explore ways of re-interpreting it as I see it in my head.’ This re-interpretation had a recent fruition. ‘An Ancient Love Story’ sees a giant of a man in coital embrace with a woman while a seven-headed cobra coils around them before towering over them, offering shelter to the lovers. Who are these lovers? That, Milinda tells me, is left to the viewer’s imagination.

That piece along with the rest of Milinda’s work will be on display soon. ‘I plan to have an exhibition of my work around the end of this year. I’ll be showcasing a lot of my work. People think I only sketch, but I have a couple of oil paintings and even some sculptures I want to display.’

And where does Milinda see himself artistically and in his day job in the near future? ‘I want to open my own studio, Studio 666, which will have merchandise featuring my designs. As far as my medical career is concerned, I am planning on earning my MD soon, hopefully in either Emergency Care or Nephrology, both areas that I am very interested in.’

His closing words are apt reminders: Dr Milinda is a child who grew up but remained forever an artist, Picasso’s quote made flesh, perpetually fuelled by innocence and a primal need to draw. To learn more about his work, and to stay updated on the happenings at Studio 666, go to http://www.facebook.com/studio666

Sunday Times feature:

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