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Canvas of emotions

Krishan Khanna, one of the renowned names in contemporary art, strongly believes in human values. The artist spoke about himself and his art.



ARTIST AND ART: Krishan Khanna at work

KRISHAN KHANNA is one of the celebrated names of contemporary art. He started painting at a time when there was not much glamour in art along with his friends M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Ramkumar, Raza, Ara, Souza, Gaitonde and others. In fact he gave up a job in Grindlays Bank to pursue art about four decades ago - something that needed guts as the art scene in the Sixties was no way comparable to what it is now. His passion for art motivated him to take such a step. And his perseverance and interest fetched him rewards and accolades. Basically a self-taught artist, Krishan Khanna has also taught art in the United States without any formal academic qualification in the subject. His works reflect a socio-political commitment, especially the `Game' series. Depiction of violence and death is rather common perhaps stemming from his experiences during the Partition. The artist's empathy towards the downtrodden and ordinary people is vivid in his paintings.

For a painter who began painting in his youth and who juggled art and a bank job (he joined Grindlays bank in 1948 and was posted in Mumbai) for a few years, giving up a lucrative job was a courageous decision at a time when it was difficult to survive on `earnings' through art. Yet Krishan Khanna had the confidence though it was a dicey question as he says "there were uncertainties. They will always be there. I was painting and exhibiting. My shows in Mumbai were well received. My father always encouraged me in art and told me that I should do what I think I can. So I did just that. My wife stood by me when I resigned from the bank. Also I was lucky to be posted in Mumbai where my artist-friends Husain, Raza, Ara and others gave me hope to pursue art. They were inspiring and also critical."

Did the Partition play a role in conditioning your mind? "It has. It was traumatic and a big mistake to divide. There was nothing to rejoice. I saw a wholesome form of life in Lahore (where we lived). There were no divisions." One of his first paintings (reflected by the turn of events) was a funeral - a tragic and human concern. "It was a question of being drawn into the finality of death."

Krishan Khanna started at a time when there was no money or glamour in art. How does he view the situation today? "The changes have happened fast. Prices have increased reasonably. I feel confident of my economic viability. It's a good thing that economic conditions of the artists have improved."

How did you break away from the tradition of the well-established Bengal School and create your own style of art? I wasn't interested in the Bengal School - the works have a dream-like quality. I don't like inordinate exaggeration in art. I, and others took into account pictorial space as against naturalism or dreamy-like quality. Colour and form are important in the works. I am for human values and I do not want to let go of that."

The artist follows a narrative approach. He justifies it by saying "we have had a tradition of being narrative. One finds it in books and sculptures."

"Things happen in their own way and one should not reach out to make things happen," says the articulate artist, who has through his canvas of emotions and colours, etched a distinguished place in contemporary art.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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