Modernist painter and printmaker, Kanwal Krishna was one of the first artists to document life in Tibet and frequently painted and documented the regions he visited.
Born in Kamilia, Punjab (in present-day Pakistan), Krishna studied at the Benares Engineering College before pursuing a diploma from the Government School of Art and Craft, Kolkata (1933–39). In 1938, he travelled to southern Tibet with a monk, where he created artworks depicting the society and culture of Lhasa. From 1951 onwards, he participated in a series of international study tours to Italy, Norway, Romania and New York. In 1952–53, he studied Graphics under English printmaker William Hayter at Atelier 17, Paris. Krishna also briefly taught at the Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Windsor, in 1957, as well as at Modern School, Delhi, where he also became Head of the Art department in 1958.
Krishna explored landscape painting as an independent genre within the modernist vocabulary. His early works consist of watercolour landscapes depicting his travels across places such as Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet. Notably, he was the only Indian artist to gain permission to document and film the enthronement ceremony of the fourteenth Dalai Lama in Lhasa in 1940. In 1945, he and his wife Devayani Krishna were invited by the governor of the North-West Frontier Province to travel across Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass, the Swat Valley and Chitral, where they painted the life and cultures of the region. In 1949, Krishna, along with BC Sanyal, Dhanraj Bhagat, PN Mago and KS Kulkarni, founded the Delhi Silpi Chakra. Krishna’s early prints were primarily monoprints, but he eventually transitioned into intaglio, which he combined with relief printing. He also set up the first printing press in Delhi in 1955 with his wife, where they started multicolour intaglio and collagraphy.
He was elected a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1976. His works have been shown at a number of solo and group shows across India and internationally, including at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (1994); the Delhi Art Gallery (2012); and the Mumbai Art Room (2019), among others. The Kanwal and Devayani Krishna Foundation was set up by their daughter, photographer Chitrangada Sharma, with the aim of promoting art and photography.
Krishna died in 1993 in New Delhi.
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