Oil on canvas
35 3/4 x 72 in. (91 x 182.8 cm.)
Chitrakoot Art Gallery, Kolkata.
In the mid-1950s, Krishen Khanna's paintings reveal a preference for a predominantly white and brown palette. The figures that appear in the works are outlined in thick, bold, black lines, enclosing tones of brown and umber. These early figural forms have sweeping curves with textured backgrounds. But by the mid-1960s, the period of the current painting, the formal structure of his paintings has dissolved into more gestural compositions.
In 1962, Krishen Khanna received a travelling fellowship from the John D. Rockefeller III Council of Economics and Cultural Affairs. As part of the scholarship, Krishen decided to travel to America via the East. He travelled from Kolkata to Dhaka, to Yangon, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and on to Japan. In Japan, he became fascinated with sumi-e paintings, and on his arrival in New York he began to experiment with his own versions of the form.
'He adapted the Sumi-e with its element of unpredictability, to his own purpose. Instead of the direct application of brush and ink on paper, he directed ink and water through channels and folds created in rice paper, which was laid down in a trough. It was as he says a process of courting accidents and inviting the unpredictable.' (Gayatri Sinha, Krishen Khanna A Critical Biography, New Delhi, 2001, p. 88)
The artist' new found interest with sumi-e painting, which eliminated all extraneous imagery from a composition, coincided in artistic terms with the abstract expressionists, whose paintings had become the dominant style in New York shortly before his own arrival. Krishen's work drew the attention of the eccentric art dealer Charles Egan, and in 1965 the artist held a solo show at the Egan Gallery which generated considerable critical acclaim. His sumi-e paintings were bought by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the de Menil foundation in Houston. An American critic, Stuart Preston, wrote, 'the medium appears to leave the artist's control and perform formal dances on the its own.' (reprinted in Gayatri Sinha,ibid., p. 89)
In a recent conversation with the artist, Krishen explained that the current painting evolved out of the sumi-e compositions and was part of a formal exploration into expanding the possibilities of the sumi-e approach to oil paintings. He experimented with five or six such works, before allowing more figural elements to slowly reappear in his compositions. In the coming few years, we witness the gestural works of the Rider series, and the expressionistic forms of his Drowning Girl series. It seems that both the sumi-e paintings and these abstract explorations in oil provide the artist with the springboard to this period of great artistic sensitivity.
Khanna's move to a more gestural approach may have partly been inspired by the arrival in India of the American art critic Clement Greenberg who spoke in New Delhi at the Two Decades of American Painting exhibition. 'As the high priest of abstract expressionism and the chief spokesman of the art of Jackson Pollock, Greenberg served as an interpreter of American Abstract expressionism even in distant India... Greenberg related the rise of Pollock directly to the industrialisation of America, and in post-Independence India the urgent thrust towards modernity created in the minds of many artists the desire to ally precisely with such an expressly post industrial art.' (ibid., p. 81)
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About The Artist:
KRISHEN KHANNA (b. 1925)