Raja Segar is an institution on Colombo’s art circuit. He started sketching and selling unique hand-drawn post cards in the 70’s while struggling with a career as an accountant.
By the 80’s he had graduated to full-sized oil paintings and solo-exhibitions. Through the 80s and 90s he would establish himself as one of the most prolific and popular painters in the city. His bright, cubist renditions of scenes from Sri Lankan-life pop up all over town in homes, offices, restaurants and hotels and he’s exhibited in England, Australia and India.
Part of the reason behind Segar’s success is that he has always been both talented and commercially savvy- which is in no way a bad thing. Printing unique hand-drawn post cards in the 70’s, when only generic imported cards were available locally, was a stroke of monetary genius. Coming from an impoverished background the self-taught artist has used his talent to support himself and his family in Sri Lanlka’s small, underdeveloped and extremely fickle art market, which is really quite an achievement. The man’s latest commercial/artistic venture is the Segar’ Gallery where a selection of his work is permanently on sale. It’s located in a small space in the basement of the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel nearish the Goodies pastry shop, by the exit to the car park. It’s a long, narrow, shopping mall style premise that looks like it ought to sell sun-cream, tacky carved elephants and sunglasses but inside you find oil and water colors by a well-known artist.
Cubist scenes of Colombo actually make for more interesting purchases than your usual tourist tack and the prices are surprisingly reasonable with work starting at Rs 50 000 for Segar’s own pieces and less for smaller works by other artists. There’s also still a line of unique hand drawn post cards for Rs 2000 (though I don’t think Segar-himself draws them anymore) which make for great gifts. Unique pieces of art by a known artist for a few hundred dollars; more or less sums up the sate of the Sri Lankan art market- under-priced. Whether a Segar is or is not the investment for you it’s an interesting space and one of the better uses of the bland shopping arcades you commonly find attached to monolithic 5 star hotels in this city.