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 withdrew all its foreign exchange support, including the funds for his enrolment at Oxford, thus hindering the same. By the time other funds were sourced, the enrolment window had passed and he 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 his capabilities and thus advised him to move and work in England by providing him with letters of introduction to several of his influential friends in London. While in England, he was introduced with Francis Newton Souza, a leading Goan painter much admired by critics and art buying public alike. He started painting energetically and soon got noticed, selling them for good prices. 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, creating 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. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, to make five large paintings.
In the early 90s, Khanna created ‘Kalighat Paintings - 1930, Popular Indian Art’, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition from the collections of the British Museum, the V and A and others, at the Leicester Museum, the City Art Centre, the Bradford Museum, MOMA at Oxford and at the V and A, London. He became a Member of Projects Committee, Arts Council of England. From 1997 to 1999, Khanna created ‘Krishna - the Divine Lover’, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of the 16th-19th century Indian miniatures from the V and 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 created ‘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 lifelong 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.
Khanna’s 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 Khanna’s childhood, with his thought and memories immortalised and allowing the reader to delve further deep into his mind.
Balraj’s 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. He published the new novel LINE OF BLOOD 2017 One-Man how at the Jerwood Gallery Hatings 2018.
Exhibitions of Balraj Khanna
The venues and few of the exhibitions conducted by Balraj Khanna are highlighted hereunder alongside the respective years of shows.
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