The Partition in 1947 had a profound impact on Khanna, and he was deeply affected by not only the change in his personal circumstances but also the socio-political chaos that it brought to bear. His paintings are often interpretations of the scenes that were indelibly imprinted on his memory during this period. 'All great art has to be local. When I say local I mean an artist has to draw from things near him so that a certain passion comes through his paintings. At the same time great art transcends the ordinary moment and strikes a moment in infinity' (G. Sinha, Krishen Khanna: A Critical Biography, New Delhi, 2001, p. 35). By using a specific and meaningful narrative in his paintings, Khanna makes his art personal, yet his subjects and issues have a widespread appeal, which is what makes him such a successful artist.
This exceptional painting titled Newspaper Readers is about the impact of the news of Gandhi's assassination. Krishen Khanna had made a series of very realistic drawings based on this theme and the current owner of this painting commissioned him to make a more abstract version of his previous sketches. What makes this work so unique is that unlike
his contemporaries, Khanna usually chose to explore the figurative over abstraction so this loosely ordered and impressionist style of painting is uncommon in his body of work.
Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 struck the nation and it was a time of immense grief and mourning. Newspapers at the time were the most widespread outlet for news. The painting Newspaper Readers is Khanna’s take of the masses reading the paper and finding out about this catastrophic event. Sublime colours of cool azure and fiery umber streak across the canvas and the subjects are all anonymous and almost faceless, making the emotion and the message more potent. The various readers compositionally compete for space, giving the viewer a sense of the scale of the historic event. An emotional and moving portrayal of a tragedy that struck the Indian nation, Khanna has cleverly used a simple analogy to impart a monumental idea.
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