(Last Updated on : 08/11/2016)
Balraj Khanna is a celebrated Indian artist
, author, philosopher
and thinker. A painter and personality of art, more by fate than ambition, Balraj Khannas artistic works exude relentless energy, motion and movement. They live and breathe with an expression that is animated in an absolute unrestricted and free manner with vivid hues, just like his perception of life as vibrant and exciting. The paintings make the viewer dive into its depth and contemplate. Some of his literary works reflect the difficult times in Britain during the Swinging Sixties when he had moved there, and racism was rampant. Khanna writes with rich humour and no rancour.
Early Life and Education of Balraj Khanna
Balraj Khanna was born in Punjab
in the year 1940. He completed his Master of Arts from Punjab University, Chandigarh
, in 1962 and moved to England the same year, with the ambition of studying at Oxford. Unfortunately at that time, war broke out between India and China and the Indian government
, having to finance a war, withdrew all its foreign exchange support, including the funds for Khannas enrolment at Oxford, thus hindering the same. By the time other funds were sourced, the enrolment window had passed and Khanna found himself a gap of a year to fill before he could attempt to enrol again. In the time, he took up his old hobby of painting, and, in his own words, was "reborn".
While a student in India, Khanna had also met the writer
-critic Mulk Raj Anand
, who had also perceived Khannas capabilities and thus advised him to move and work in England, also providing him with letters of introduction to several of his influential friends in London. While in England, Khanna fell in with Francis Newton Souza, a leading Goan painter much admired by critics and art buying public alike. He started painting furiously and soon got noticed, selling them for good prices. After a year, he was told, "Forget university - you are an artist". He, therefore, stayed in London and was signed up leading London art galleries.
Paintings and Art Works of Balraj Khanna
During the late 60s, Khanna worked in England and France. From 1971 to 1972, Khanna worked as a Foreign Correspondent during India-Pakistan War that led to the liberation of Bangladesh. He had then painted Birth of a Nation: Bangladesh, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Modern Art
, New Delhi. In the late 70s, he had executed a mosaic mural
for a private swimming pool in London. By this time, Khanna had achieved immense success as an artist, curating multiple exhibitions, solo and group shows. He also delivered lectures on Indian art and personal development at universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, The Royal College, St Martin's, the South Bank Centre, The Institute of Education, the Hayward Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, the Bradford Museum, the Brighton Museum and multiple other venues.
In the early 80s, Khanna had executed a Mural painting for Elven Precision Ltd, Crawley, Sussex. From 1983 to 1988, he served as the Chairman of Indian Arts Council in the UK. During 1985-86, he co-authored with Richard Cork and Shirley Read, Art on the South Bank, an independent report commissioned by the Greater London Council (GLC), published in 1987. In 1986, he had also founded the Horizon Gallery, London. In the late 80s, he became a member of Exhibitions Committee of Arts Council of Great Britain, Visual Art Panel of South Bank Centre and Hayward Gallery and was commissioned by St. Marys Hospital, Paddington, to make five large paintings.
In the early 90s, Khanna curated Kalighat Paintings
- 1930, Popular Indian Art, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition from the collections of the British Museum, the V&A and others, at the Leicester Museum, the City Art Centre, the Bradford Museum, MOMA at Oxford and at the V&A, London. He became a Member of Projects Committee, Arts Council of England. From 1997 to 1999, Khanna curated Krishna - the Divine Lover, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of the 16th-19th century Indian miniatures
from the V&A, the British Museum, the British Library and other public collections. He also exhibited the same at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Huddersfield Art Gallery, Mappin Gallery in Sheffield and Brighton Museum. In this period, he acquired a Mosaic Mural Commission for Museum of Modern Art and The Tabernacle in Machynlleth, Wales and a Painting Commission for the Conquest Hospital, Hastings.
In the beginning of the 21st century, he curated Human and Divine, 2000 Years of Indian Sculpture
, a Hayward Gallery National Touring Exhibition at the new Walsall Art Gallery, Sainsbury's Art Centre, Norwich and Southampton City Art Gallery. He was commissioned to paint the Safety Curtain for Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, one of the largest works of public art in the UK. In 2006, he displayed How to improve the World – 60 Years of British Art 1945-2006 at the Hayward Gallery, London. In June 2013, Khanna launched his first 3D exhibition, A Journey of His Own, which showcased a special selection of his life long works. In early 2016, he put on display Artist and Empire at the art museum Tate Britain, London, exhibiting paintings like his Forest Walk (72 inches by 96 inches).
Literary Works of Balraj Khanna
Balraj Khanna authored his first well-known publication, Nation of Fools published in 1984. The book was an exercise for Khanna to re-establish roots to his culture, having lived in England for two decades at that point. Though a lot of his friends in India were offended by the title, the book received some of its best reviews from India. He was awarded Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize by the Royal Society of Literature for his debut novel
. Later in 1999, Nation of Fools was adjudged as one of the best 200 novels in the English language
since 1950. In 1985, another novel Partition, set in 1947 India, won the Mahatma Gandhi
Prize for Literature by the GLC. He tasted much recognition in this period as an author, representing India at Illkley Literature Festival, Commonwealth Writers Conference at Edinburgh Festival.
Khannas subsequent novel Sweet Chillies released in 1991, was well received. His next non-fiction works Kalighat Paintings 1800-1930, Krishna - the Divine Lover, Art of Modern India and Human and Divine, 2000 years of Indian Sculpture are well-researched and informative. His novel Rajah King of the Jungle is a story book for children, while The Mists of Simla is set in the beautiful landscape of Khannas childhood, with his thought and memories immortalised and allowing the reader to delve further deep into his mind.
Balrajs 2014 novel Indian Magic is on the lines of his first book Nation of Fools, where he narrates the story of Ravi Verma, a new arrival to England in the 60s who finds the country a lot less welcoming than he expected, a similar situation that was faced by Balraj on his arrival to England. The book, though not an autobiography, its events are inspired by events of his own life. He read from Indian Magic and The Mists of Simla at the National Library Day talk in February 2014 at the Westminster Reference Library, London.
Exhibitions of Balraj Khanna
The venues and few of the exhibitions conducted by Balraj Khanna are highlighted hereunder alongside the respective years of shows.
A Painter of his Own World, a major retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, Wales, 2013
The Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock, 2006
Fosterart Gallery, London, 2004
Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, 1999
Galerie Belleuve, Berlin, 1994
Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh, 1986
Lalit Kala Akademy, New Delhi, 1983
Anglo Indian Express at Grosvenor Vadhera Gallery, London, 2009
New Visions, Doncaster Museum, 2004
Cultural Ties, West Zone Gallery, London, 2000
Indian Winter, Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London, 1995
Berkley Square Gallery, London, 1993
Four Leading Indian Artists, India House, London, 1978