Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Peeping into a celebrated Modernist’s painterly realm

Krishen Khanna is a truly celebrated and much revered Modernist, whose work constitutes a powerful and passionate psychological engagement that also evocatively documents the time and events of modern India.

A case in point is one of his most significant suites of drawings, entitled 'The Savage Heart', which was showcased in 2008 at Cymroza Art Gallery, Mumbai. The sensitive artist gave shape to this series through the haunting medium of darkness. More than charcoal or graphite, the judiciously applied smudge or the passing touch of pastel, it was through this deadly darkness that he traversed a time span of six decades, to revisit the horror and trauma of Partition, prompting him to speak of the unspeakable.

The tragic human drama he saw almost six decades ago, which remained with him, was replayed through the drawings, enveloped by the bloody turn of events in which two warring nation-states, India and Pakistan, were created. The geographical division translated into a massive human tragedy, uprooting several million people, forced to abandon their ancestral homes forever, and thrust into an uncertain future engulfed by anguish and exile.

His drawings summoned up all the receding horizons of stark memory. They choreographed history a carnival of destruction, as a danse macabre and selfhood’s diminution. The frames burst with bewildering figures entrapped in flight: refugees hit by the shocks of relentless assault, displacement and alienation.

Lauding his artistic excellence, Pheroza Godrej of Cymroza noted: “The controlled movement of each line, accompanied with a meaningful stroke of his pencil, communicates his refreshing thoughts, poignantly captured long ago in the artist’s mind. This dexterity presents a delightful treat to the viewer. Powerful, determined and effortless are the strokes that burst forth from the pencil of a master, who knows exactly how to express his mind and heart on paper.

"For a young impressionable mind, it was no easy task to comprehend the inescapable sordid happenings witnessed at the time of the Partition. His works have been skillfully executed from an almost photographically captured memory, bringing to life his journey through time.”

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