“Art is not just about making faces or drawing this or that. It’s the churning of the spirit inside, which is far more important. Everything else then falls into place,”
What he said in a phone interview to PTI highlights the essence of the body of Khanna’s artwork. Born in 1925 in what is now Pakistan, his work is a reflection of the time in and around partition. The war while he was studying in England, the partition between India and Pakistan, to being uprooted from his home early on in his life as a result of this had left an indelible impression in his mind. The same plight shared in essence by the community at large all around him expressed in his narratives to be reflected in the figurative and sometimes abstract portrayal in his canvases over the years. The harrowing reality of the times was deftly captured in his sketches, drawings and full blown paintings. The versatile narrator in him sought out the uprooted truck drivers and the bandwallahs of Mumbai from his childhood memories, who became part of his canvases and some evolved into sculptures. His growing fascination for Indian classical music also found place as a subject in his painting as did the imprint of the church of Franciscan Brother Joseph Gardener in his work through allegory and religious symbolism. His use of colours in creating the shadows and light surrounding his characters added depth to the narrative on the canvas capturing the battered human condition and the turmoil of the times.
Mostly a self taught artist from being the student of literature to a banker for many years he took to painting professionally from his 40’s, and was the first Indian artist to receive the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1962.
He went on to receive the Kala Ratna from the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, New Delhi in 1997, Lalit Kala Ratna from the President of India in 2004, and was awarded the Padma Sri in 1990 and Padma Bhushan in 2011 from the Government of India.
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