New Delhi: Renowned artist Krishen Khanna, who was set to have his exhibition at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in Mayfair in May, is now holding a virtual exhibition sitting in his Gurugram home, where viewers can even see him paint.
Khanna’s London plans were cancelled after the second Covid wave hit India.
“Painting from my sitting room, I am surrounded by all my friends; Husain, Gaitonde, Raza, Tyeb, Padamsee etc….. their paintings are all around me and have become a part of me. I feel they are all still with me and that is a happy thought”, the 95-year old was quoted as saying in a statement published on the Grosvenor Gallery website.
Most of his artwork were packed and ready to leave, but the second Covid wave with its virulent strain played spoilsport as there were no UK-bound flights to take his paintings to London.
Titled ‘Krishen Khanna: Paintings from my sitting room’, the exhibition has been open online from the Grosvenor Gallery viewing room from 21 May. The viewing room also has some videos of the artist on the job.
The exhibition focuses on the new paintings from Khanna’s famous ‘Bandwalla’ series, which captured his attention in the late 1970s when he was stuck in a traffic jam due to a wedding procession.
“In a way bandwallahs are a relic of the past, a legacy of the British rulers, who now belt out Indian film tunes in traditional celebrations. The uniforms add grandeur and also give certain anonymity to them, almost like the military personnel….There is something sad and musical about them”, Khanna had said in an interview earlier.
Besides the Bandwalla series, there are smaller paintings done between 2020 and 2021 as Khanna moved from his large studio in the basement of his house to a makeshift studio in his living room.
The living room, Khanna explained, has photographs of family and paintings by his friends including M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Sayed Haider Raza and Vaseudeo S. Gaitonde — which is why he feels he is surrounded by them and in their company.
Bandwallas and a connection to his past
For Khanna, bandsmen or bandwallas remain a link to his past. He crossed over to India during Partition and still remembers many bandsmen crossing over with his family.
Khanna was born in what is now Faisalabad in Pakistan, but grew up in Lahore and attended evening art classes at the Mayo School of Art there. In 1947, his family moved to Shimla and this had a deep impact on him due to the mass migration, deaths and the socio-political developments that occurred around him.
It has been written that his early artworks have been a reproduction of these scenes imprinted in his memory.
Prior to becoming an artist, Khanna was a banker and a Grindlays Bank job brought him to Bombay (now Mumbai). It was here that he became a member of the Progressive Group of Artists in the 1950s, after being introduced to the group by none other than M.F. Husain.
A “self-taught” artist, Khanna has had his artwork displayed at many prestigious galleries.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990 and got the Lalit Kala Ratna in 2004. In 2011, Khanna was awarded the Padma Bhushan.
Speaking about the current Covid situation, the 95-year-old artist said in the Grosvenor Gallery statement: “In this current atmosphere, one can become very depressed, but fortunately for me there are the Bandwallas who are still making noise… I’m painting them, I have to concentrate fully on them. The Bandwallas take prime position in my life right now.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.