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Sketching the art scene

Two well-known artists, Krishen Khanna and Jahangir Sabvala, speak about the path Indian art has traversed

Krishen Khanna

ART AFICIONADOS of Bangalore had the good fortune of meeting not one, but two luminaries of contemporary Indian art at the Windsor Sheraton, last weekend. Recalling their early days in the art world, the artists spoke on some of the issues that concern the art world today.

"When we started painting, nobody talked about money," reminisced Krishen Khanna, who took up painting in the early Sixties, after bidding goodbye to a decade-long career in banking. "The process of painting was in itself complete."

Speaking to prospective art collectors, he said: "To be a collector, you must first fall in love with art. I would even say, you must resist buying it in the first instance. Let it follow you, tease you, and cajole your senses so much that you start loving it. Then you can resist no more and you will start feeling obsessed by it. Acquisition, then, happens naturally. And because you love it so much, you will also find it difficult to part with it."

Jahangir Sabvala

Khanna, who travelled the world on a scholarship from the Rockefeller Council and became a resident artist at the Washington University, had a few words of advice to young artists as well. "Please get a foothold in this country before looking for accolades and acceptance elsewhere. This is where you belong and this is where you gain your cultural sustenance." He narrated an incident when he asked another great artist, F.N. Souza, who had already gained recognition in the West, whether he would like to return to India. "Of course, I will," was Souza's immediate response, "to recharge my batteries!"

A smiling Jahangir Sabavala, dressed as immaculately as ever and looking prim with his well maintained whiskers and upturned mustache, too went back in time. "When we started painting, we were only looking to create that special quality and character in our works, and nothing else mattered. We certainly did not paint just to please anyone — either the prospective buyers or the critics. It was difficult to get even a one-line write up in the newspapers those days. But we did carry on as a small band of artists, associating ourselves with people from other professions — writers, thinkers, and even philosophers. A very rough road has been traversed. Now, it is very nice to see a flood of young people who are having it relatively easy. But then, that is their due."

Sabavala's studies and travels in France under the apprenticeship of Andre Lhote and the influence of Flinenger resulted in a classical cubist style. The artist, who maintains this style to this day while painting his "ethereal" landscapes, felt that the West is yet to wake up to Indian art. "If you have a show abroad, out of an audience of 100, you will see only four or five Western faces. All the rest are Indian. But others from the East, say Chinese or Korean artists, command better acceptance and recognition because they are older in the Western world compared to us." Sabavala is confident, though, that "the day is not far off, when they don't think of you only as an Indian artist, but respect you for the true value of your works".


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