Sunday, June 2, 2013

Captivating life graph of a veteran practitioner

Krishen Khanna’s captivating life graph constitutes a passionate psychological engagement that also deftly documents the time and events of modern India. The residues of past remain submerged in his art, and the horror of the haunting past pulses beneath the outwardly calm surface.

Fathoming his art and life, critic-curator Ranjit Hoskote had mentioned: “Krishen Khanna was a witness to these cataclysmic events at first hand, and gradually embarked on the course that would establish him as a distinguished member of the first generation of postcolonial Indian artists. A connoisseur of extreme conditions: he invokes not only the desperate and the damned, but also the quixotic, and the sublimely mad.

"His portraits of dervish-like figures, and of saints with matted hair and rough garments exploring the wilderness, have a dual origin: if they owe much to the artist’s measured engagements with art history, they also spring from the quirkiness of his personal experience.”
Tracing this trajectory of exploration, he was also gripped by memories of India’s freedom struggle and the conquest of colonial rulers. In his drawings, he also dwelt on his favorite figures for decades: truckers in vehicles, resembling crumbled war chariots.

A kaleidoscopic show of his iconic drawings and paintings was hosted a few years ago at the LKA, Delhi. The retrospective charted his creative journey spanning several decades and many milestones. The veteran artist rewound the clock back to his pre-partition life in Lahore. It was largely a recollection of events from his early childhood, when fight between Indian freedom fighters and the British rulers was at its peak. The large format oil compositions done in monochrome served as an extension of his memories in Lahore’s cosmopolitan settings.

The drawing is a form at which he excels. For him, it’s a continuous discipline about which the master practitioner quips, “I invite chance.” His line, wavy and scraggly by turns, gets spiky and unpredictable sometimes or generative of a precise geometry, at other times. Serving as the perfect probing device to satiate his artistic quest, it’s not predicated upon a semblance of conceptual closure and formal completeness, unlike the painting: it tends to initiate a conversation and leaves its interpretation to the viewer’s own imagination.

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