Aubrey Collette is best-known in Sri Lanka as a cartoonist, having been, from the mid forties, virtually a daily contributor to the Times of Ceylon and the Lake House press until the early 1960s when he emigrated.
His cartoons are a sharp, visual comment on the social and political landscape of the time. Specific issues of the moment, the political developments after Sri Lanka's independence and the far-reaching social and cultural changes or 'perali' in the 1950s found expression in the incisive, biting humour of his brilliant line-work. In everything the essential human aspect dominates, (as Tarzie Vittachi, his colleague once wrote, political parties may come and go, but human nature goes on for ever).
Collette is the creator of the harassed, harried, hapless but nevertheless heroic Citizen Per-r-ra victim of politics, politicians and even an often unfriendly Providence, Citizen Per-r-ra lives on.
One can debate the "correctness" of Collette's particular political analysis of the people and events which became grist to his crushing mill, but his best work ranks with the best anywhere. His sly deflation of the puffed up pride and pomposity of politics, as he saw it, however goes well beyond the specific Ceylonese setting which animated him.
His work not merely lays open with surgical precision the individual personality quirks of those whom he caricatured, but also taps the universal foibles they symbolise. It is therefore no wonder that his work has been happily received in Australia, Malaysia and other places as well.
The portrait sketches of George Keyt, Ivan Peries and others of the '43 Group pantheon are works of a master achieved with economy, accuracy of line, and an unfailing touch of affection and humour.
Collette's paintings tend to rely primarily on the expressiveness of his line rather than colour or form. In "Tamil labourers", for example, the outstretched lefthand of the man graphically conveys the weight and strain of the bucket he carries. A certain dignity and "soul" is endowed upon the simple human figures recalling the work of Goya and Daumier.