One enters Brief by driving past paddy fields, down narrow country lanes, until you get to a gate guarded by two statues with flower pots for hats. Parking your car in a circular clearing surrounded by bamboo, you ring the bronze bell for admission and walk up a sweeping staircase to the main reception area. Polished cement floors kept spotless, inside the house, everything is quiet and serene, birdsong echoing in from outside. A wall of books lines one corner of the main living room, a lifetime’s collection of reading – Oscar wilde, Winston Churchill, Hugh Walpole etc.
Squirrels scamper inside the house, playing on the furniture, an eclectic mixture of modernist classics and antiques. A Coco De Mer fruit lies on the coffee table, Its dark wood polished and sensuous. A wall of bottles, inserted into the wall so that they catch the diffuse the light of the sun behind it, an outside coffee table features a colorful mosaic of a lizard with bulging eyes.
Sculptures was Bevis’s Particular passion, and there are many fine examples dotted around the house & garden; Hanuman the monkey king, complete with club, lithe young men sporting vines and tendrils for fig leaves, many of them done by himself.
The walls are a pictorial history of Bevis’s life. Friends & Family, Passions & Politics. There are pictures of him looking dashing in his Aide-De-Camp uniform flanking the governors that he served during the years. There are pictures of royalty, both real (King Edward VIII looking piercingly at the camera) and from the world of movies. A framed photograph pictures a group of people lounging on the lawns of Brief, looking carefree, a summer picnic in the sunshine. A closer inspection of the inscription below it finds the words “To bring you happiest wishes for Christmas and the New year, Vivien & Lawrence Olivier” and the finally there are pictures of his beloved automobiles, everything from a- Rolls-Royce Phantom I to Austin 8, Talbot to Ford HP tourer, a Humber, a Morris Minor, a Morris Sunbeam – the list is endless and varied, an automobile enthusiast’s dream.
Standing in the middle of the lawns at Brief you get an idea of what a civilized man Bevis must have been, a man who enjoyed his privacy, a man who enjoyed his aesthetics. The grounds are not cluttered; they are very serene and peaceful. It’s the perfect place to have a leisurely lunch, to relax and soak in the idea of a bygone age. When things moved at a slower pace, when life was less complicated, when a man could make it his life’s work to build a garden, slowly and surely putting his heart and soul and intellect in to something which would stand the rest of time and outlive even himself, his perpetually flourishing legacy to the world. Where he could relax in the company of friends and be inspired by their work of art, as they in turn were inspired by the gardens around them. A place where someone who was constantly in the public eye could find privacy for his own thoughts, but also place where there was an open welcome to those who were in tune with the spirit of the place, and even better, were able to enhance it.
One of those people was the Australian artist Donald Friend, who dropped by in the 60’s for a short visit and ended up staying for five and a half of years. He repaid the hospitality of his host by bestowing him with a prolific amount of work.
One of the most striking pieces is a gigantic mural which takes up an entire wall, an epic overview of the island of Lanka, with a myriad of details to behold, Hindu goddesses, towns & villages, elephants, lakes, trees, jungles, forests, peacocks, monks a kaleidoscopic slice of life.
There is an outside (open air) bathing space in one of the side courtyards in the house, a short walk down the garden from the house. A paved path, paving stones casting s of many large leaves from various trees, done by Bevis himself. Turn a corner and enter this room with the sky for a ceiling, walls covered in green ivy, branches grazing your forehead. A large bas-relief on one wall of an impish god of the woods with his tongue striking out, hair billowing wildly and brilliant blue marbles for eyes. (This is known as Donald’s face as well)
It’s a place where bathing alone becomes a privet meditation, allowing you to be at peace with your thoughts, whilst bathing with someone else watching you carries you an altogether more voyeuristic thrill. Only someone with the mind of an intellectual but the appetite of a hedonist would really appreciate something like this.
The gardens of Brief are actually better appreciated as rooms in a house, a series of several small gardens, each with its own individual touches and features. The lushness and verdancy of the gardens, the artful positioning of the plants & shrubs, the pots and statues, the artful nooks crannies, the playful cul de sacs that an unsuspecting visitor wanders in to, the lines of sight and perspective that are laid out gracefully, all the suggest his towering figure (Bevis himself was six feet & seven inches tall 6’7”) concealed the soul of a poet.
The privet spaces for meditation and contemplation, the meandering pathways that bring you to an enclave, a glade, a clearing with a small lake in the middle of it, the vistas and perspectives of the carefully terraced and landscaped fields, pleasing to the eye in their subtlety, a glorious profusion of plants and flowers and trees from all around the world, all make me think of one man’s attempt to build a Noah’s Ark of flora. Bevis Bawa Died on the 18th of September 1992, but I think he would be comforted to know that the place is still imbued with the spirit he was trying to create, gracious, unpretentious, dignified and above all welcoming..!!
After the demise of Bevis “BRIEF” is owned by his former Assistant, Manager & formerly Geoffrey Bawa’s Landscape Designer (until the demise of Geoffrey) Dooland de Silva, yet another leading Landscapist in the island.