Revered as one of our most prominent and critically acclaimed modernists, 92-year-old Krishen Khanna has no intention of slowing down as he gets ready to showcase his brand new Mahabharta series.
It’s unlikely that one of India’s greatest and most celebrated artists, Krishen Khanna, will ever enjoy the fame of, say, a Husain or a Souza, masters who vaulted to international attention by demolishing accepted orthodoxies. It is telling that unlike the two, and of course, V.S. Gaitonde, who are now instantly recognisable as the luminaries of modern Indian art, Khanna’s name does not have similar popular recall. Yet over the course of more than six decades, the virtually self-taught Khanna has steadily produced a dazzling and timeless body of work while establishing a style that is purely his own. “I preferred it that way. I never craved for publicity, but just enjoyed my work,” says Khanna, 92, his rich English baritone intact. The artistic life is supposedly solitary, but he is at his gregarious best when we meet him at his Gurgaon home. Rich in the rewards of substantial and a celebrated career, Khanna is among those artists who are also very articulate. Meeting him is a revealing and intellectually stimulating experience. Armed with his gift of the gab and eye for detail, much of the conversation is laced with wry wit. Though nursing a bad back, nobody is spared his gentle ribbing and blunt asides. At his age, the painter is a seriously anecdotal man, who needs no aide memoires. One of the last surviving members of Progressive Artists’ Group, Khanna recalls his days spent with Raza, Husain, Tyeb Mehta and others. They almost seemed like having a ball and there were no egos or jealousy. When one of them sold a work, the rest celebrated. “We were all friends and who sold what and for how much did not matter. We would meet over drinks or tea and discuss each other’s work because we were passionate about art,” he says, reminiscing those heady days when artists were comrades in paint.
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