Integral philosophy is not created in isolation, believes Padmabhushan Krishen Khanna (in pic), who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at HIFA’s cultural fest on Thursday.
Reinforcing the saying ‘Behind every successful man, is a woman’, Khanna says, “Everyone talks about the glory of artists, no one actually talks about the lady behind his success. Behind my success was my wife. She was the one who stood by me through thick and thin and supported all my decisions.”
A distinguished name in the Indian contemporary art scenario, Khanna’s list of friends included painters MF Hussain, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, SH Raza, Souza and Gaitonde, among others. Khanna says he started painting at a time when glamour and art were poles apart. “Our bonding was just art, nothing materialistic. Many of them have passed away, leaving behind their masterpieces, which still bond us with them. Money and fame corrupt an artist; we all believed in that.”
Sharing painter SH Raza’s words, he says, “We can just paint; after 80% of picture is done, if we are fortunate enough, a Devi (goddess) enters the picture and puts life into it.”
Born in pre-partition India (1925) in Lyallpur district (now in Pakistan), Khanna moved to Shimla during the Partition. In Lahore, Khanna attended evening classes at the Mayo School of Art. After coming to India, he took up a job with Grindlays Bank and was placed in Mumbai. Four decades ago, he gave up the job to pursue art, about which, he says, “I still remember the day I put in my papers; the manager called me to stay back and tried to lure me in with a beautiful house and more facilities. But, managing two professions simultaneously was getting very difficult. I used to be at work from 8 am to 7 pm and started painting from 9 pm to 3 am, religiously.”
Khanna’s paintings speak vividly of his empathy towards the browbeaten common man. What’s relatively latest in his works in the depiction of violence. “It took me many years to paint and draw images from the Partition. It’s just been two years that I could gather the courage to bring back those memories for my work. I will exhibit my works soon in Chandigarh as well.”
Khanna sold his first painting at a major exhibition to Dr Homi Bhabha for the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. In 1962, Khanna was awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship, followed by the Artist in Residence at the American University, Washington, in 1963-64. Apart from several solo shows, Khanna has participated in group shows such as Tokyo Biennale (1957 and 1961), the Sao Paulo Biennale (1960) and the Venice Biennale (1962).