From Partition to pandemic, Krishen Khanna’s canvas encompasses all of it

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“In fact I nonetheless paint,” says Krishen Khanna, the final of India’s surviving modernists, a bit of shocked he’s requested the query in any respect.

The truth is, mentioned the artist who celebrated his 96th birthday earlier this month, he’s at all times engaged on one thing, nonetheless discovering out issues, nonetheless thrilled by the very act of portray.

“Artwork is not only about making faces or drawing this or that. It’s the churning of the spirit inside, which is way extra essential. All the pieces else then falls into place,” Khanna informed PTI in a telephone interview, the sheer pleasure of portray right this moment and daily to return evident in his voice.

If ‘age is only a quantity’, the artist, who spans the historical past of latest India from Partition to the pandemic in his works, is the one who epitomises it.

In Might this yr, Khanna was scheduled to journey to London for an exhibition on the Grosvenor Gallery. That bought cancelled because of the second COVID-19 wave, and he subsequently hosted a digital exhibition, Krishen Khanna: Work from my sitting room from his Gurgaon house.

“I’m at all times engaged on one thing. It is likely to be a drawing or a portray,” Khanna mentioned in response to a query on what he’s engaged on. To him, making a murals is akin to a spontaneous however lengthy dialog between the artist and his creation, a course of that has been central to his complete existence. “Generally you go straight right into a portray It received’t look forward to any deliberations you must assault it. And when you begin, then the portray begins speaking again to you. And it’s a protracted dialog.

“It’s not that you’ll at all times know what to do. You don’t. And I feel that’s the absolute thrill of portray. You might be discovering out issues on a regular basis. That’s stunning.”

Having lived by means of Partition in 1947 and now the COVID-19 pandemic, and the whole lot in between, Khanna has seen all of it. It’s maybe this wealthy life expertise that has impressed his versatile oeuvre comprising work, drawings, and sketches, each figurative and summary.

However he doesn’t have a favorite medium or type. “It’s not like a wedding…I’ve recognized so many ladies, however the final is my spouse,” he laughed.

Born on July 9, 1925, in Faisalabad in present-day Pakistan, Khanna went by means of the trauma of being uprooted from his house when was in his early 20s, an expertise that influenced numerous his works. His collection on the bandwallahs’ of Mumbai, truck drivers, and work impressed by his experiences of Partition are amongst his finest recognized.

After shifting to India following Partition, the sensation of being dislocated from a spot that one calls house appeared ever current. He noticed this sense of being displaced within the lots of of truck drivers travelling out and in of Delhi, and within the anonymous, pink uniformed bandwallahs’ in Mumbai.

“I internalise what different persons are going by means of that’s what I’m going by means of additionally. I’m not illustrating their lives. I used to see these fellows on a regular basis lots of of vehicles in Bhogal (in Delhi the place many Sikhs migrated to after Partition, most of them changing into truck drivers) and discuss to them. It was their livelihood.

“They had been additionally individuals who had been victims of Partition and so they had no place to stay in, so that they lived within the vehicles. They ate within the truck, and the truck was their house. The identical factor with the bandwallahs’. They had been dislocated like all people else was. I’ve nice sympathies with these folks,” the artist mentioned.

Khanna talks with the identical compassion concerning the lakhs of migrants who misplaced their livelihoods and had been pressured to journey again in vehicles, on bicycles and in addition on foot again to their villages because of the pandemic. Even right this moment, when Covid has pushed so many individuals out of their jobs, and so they have gone again to their villages you realize it isn’t a really blissful scenario.

Whether or not the artist‘s sympathies for individuals who had been a part of this human tragedy have reworked into artworks but, he didn’t reveal. Khanna took up artwork professionally when he was in 40s, after 14 years of working as a banker.”(However) I used to be doing artwork on a regular basis. From the age of seven or eight or 9, I feel, and it was inspired by my household. My father preferred it. He himself used to color, and it simply grew out of that. I used to be in class in Lahore the place I sat for some examination, which I didn’t know on the time was for the Royal Drawing Society in London. I bought two certificates from there that’s about as a lot as I acquired from my artwork coaching in a way,” he mentioned.

His job at Grindlays Financial institution that took him to Bombay (now Mumbai) the place he joined the long-lasting Bombay Progressive artists group in 1950 that inspired the appearance of avant-garde artwork in India. In 1962, he acquired the Rockefeller Fellowship, changing into the primary Indian artist to take action.

Recalling his early days with contemporaries corresponding to M F Husain, F N Souza, S H Raza, V S Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar, he mentioned they had been the closest of mates. Life has gotten a bit of bit lonelier. “When one portray was completed, it could be seen by all. There can be discussions. They usually had been sincere discussions. It wasn’t simply ‘patting you on the again’.

“We had been the closest and dearest of mates, and probably the most sincere to one another one thing would occur and Husain would say, yeh kya kar diya (what have you ever completed?) I had all of my mates who’re gone now. So, in a way I’m a bit of lonely on that rating,” Khanna mentioned.

To them, he mentioned, artwork by no means was the ‘trade’ it’s made out to be right this moment. “It’s not an trade. They’re making an attempt to make it folks with galleries It’s good, after all, to have galleries, however the individuals who run these galleries additionally have gotten to be of a sure sort of spirit,” he mentioned.

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