Krishen Khanna Archives

From: Tyeb Mehta, New York

31st March 1968

My dear Krishen, Renu,

. . . It is absolutely clear to me that Modern painting in India can survive on free exchange of ideas and feelings amongst those who care for painting in general and not for the recognition of individual mediocrity. Minding one’s own business would be suicidal in our situation. Knowing all that has happened seems so childish at such a distance that I wish someone had a courage to say - ‘I am not your friend because I don’t like your work’ - that would make sense. However I think you deserve all the praise for assembling such a collection and winning the award.

My London exhibition was well attended on the opening day. Lusadas - Trevelyans - Delkanco and others whom I had in mind saw the exhibits.

. . . N.Y. is crazy. We went to the formal opening of the exhibition ‘Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage’. We looked funny for everyone else who came there was dressed like Maharajahs (literally - by the way many women did not have their underwear). Outside 300 hippies protested at this early bursts. Inside Duchamp was sympathetic whilst Dali was behaving like Greta Garbo - all cameras focussed on him and his prodigy - another Dali in making. I hear he is a bad painter and for all intent and purpose perhaps, this was the last glorious day for Mr. Dali. . . .

To: Krishen Khanna, c/o Mr. A. Lusada, The Tides, Chiswick Mall, London W.4 - U.K.

From: Tyeb Mehta, 229, W. 22nd St., N.Y. 10011

6th October 1968

My dear Krishen,

. . . Satish is here with his collages and arranged a show on his own with the blessings of Ahujas (new L.G. of India House). He has tremendous contacts and has managed to sell well. But so what! This sort of thing discourages me - still.

. . . The place to work is N. Delhi, and we must develop independently - time to our situation. I do not want to live in New York more than it is necessary for me to do. In this last year my own work has suffered.

. . . It is interesting that here there is not one significant painter whose direction of work is figurative.

However, I do realise the possibilities of further work in my own direction. For the time being thought it best to experiment in different medium. Consequently I have joined PRATT Graphic Art Centre. I am doing Lithography, Silk Screen, Engraving, Etching. . . .

20th July 1980

. . . For more than a month now I have been working without any appreciable result. But it will come - for I want to find quicker and spontaneous way of applying colour. This should necessitate underplaying linear element - and, I hope, not necessarily the change in basic structure.

. . . Our Prithvi Notes is a great success. We have already six sponsors (Rs 350/- Rs. 500/- depending on how large the issue) besides Akbar and Husain. You can help us find few more - for if we have 12 committed to this amount yearly - then we can bring it out regularly.

What about your article for P. Notes and you must send us relevant material much before you show for publication. I will let you know the month of your showing in my next letter.

. . . Husain was here, and the great news is that a Canadian gallery is investing in promoting his works some *$ million for next 3 years. (I bet you know this already!) Six exhibitions of his works are being organised in Montreal, New York et. Al. One of us has at last made it (for whatever it’s worth) from here - and this made me feel damn good.

. . . Most of the exhibitions in town are lousy. LKA’s exhibition of miniatures (modern) was a disgrace. The 2 heads of Baroda prodigy Dhruv were as mannered and formal - and I don’t understand all this fuss they make about him. Geeta’s article published in Debonair (what a journal to promote ‘Social potential’ on Binod Babu was a total disappointment. Wonder what Dilu is thinking about!. . .

2nd Feb 1982

. . . I sold Hermitz my large painting for Rs 32000/- less 25%. He has paid me Rs 11000/- for now - which together with Rs 14666.00 that I will receive from Bhopal. I can look after the family till the end of Oct. (needless to say I have never felt more secured in these last 5 years). Since I am showing this painting in Triennale and in Oxford - I will receive the balance of Rs 13000/- when the painting will reach Hermitzi in Boston. Now Ravi can have this Rs 13000/- And as for the rest let me send you the painting to Delhi as I do them irrespective of Mr. Krishen Khanna’s likes and dislikes.

Waheeda and Shashi came over for lunch, when I read my final script to them. I am keen she should do the main role of the mother - but I have a feeling that her response was not positive. Anyway, I submitted the script to N.F.D.C with a proposal that they finance the project in its totality - the budget for 16 mm. Eastman Colour being Rs 8,30,000/-. I can hear you say “Sala, painting kar na!”. . .

16th June 1984

. . . Visva Bharti has re-opened today. People have started coming in. Met Ramir Gandhi again - as depressed and concerned as anyone of us about what’s happening in the country. That bastard Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackery should be persecuted in the court of law for having taken so many lives - God knows for what. And alas! All that happened in Punjab.

The whole country is on fire. And sometimes it makes me think that our work is not ‘the affirmation of life’ as you put it but an exercise in self-indulgence and failure. . . .

From: Tyeb Mehta, Bombay

20th January 1989

. . . As you said correctly I wouldn’t have been able to achieve half of what I have without Sakina and my children. And if I may add to that without the confidence and tolerance of my friends - amongst them I have always valued your enthusiasm for my work and your friendship most dearly.

The award money will be useful if the Govt. of Maharasthra allots me a flat - of which there is a possibility - on their 10% discriminatory quota, at a reduced rate. I had applied for it more than a year & a half ago. This is a scheme for creative artists working in all discipline - which when it happen will allow me to have a separate working place in Bombay.

. . . You saw my first Kali. Since then I have done a small study on the canvas and completed a large (170 cms X 137.5 cms) painting of Kali II. The reactions of those who have seen these two paintings have been unexpected. I had originally thought of selling Kali II to the Times of India, but then I decided to keep two Kali’s together. . . .

From: Tyeb Mehta, Bombay

10th September 1991

. . . The art scene here is getting murkier day by day - what with Ashish and Pritish around. And gallery 7 patronising Baroda always, all fresh starters who indulge in narrativepainting without having much to narrate. You can imagine all the values which we held dear in good old days vanishing. . . . Anyway I have no moreenthusiasmleft.

The “forgotten” guru gaibaba has finally broken his precious silence - vehicle Nandy of III. W dated 8/9/91 to tell the world that he has nothing to say and what he thought of his contemporaries, as if it mattered & the world cared. Manjit should be happy as Baba like Bawa’s work.

Since the beginning of the year I have been working regularly. The large painting has come out fairly well. I had to finally execute it in oil as I did not have enough acrylic paint. However I have done 3 paintings in acrylic and have learnt to handle the medium as per my need. . . .

To: Krishen Khanna, 57/A, Friends Colony (East), New Delhi

From: Tyeb Mehta, 15, Sea Breeze, N.S. Road 13, Juhu, Bombay - 400049

Dated: 28th August 1992

. . . It is also very depressing when it happens in the middle of work, for I was painting 4’X6’ canvas - an image of the fallen figure juxtaposed on a rickshaw. It was coming out well - I thought - though I was finding it difficult to resolve it. Now I don’t know, even if I were to pick up the lose threads that I’ll be able to achieve the result with spontaneity.

This is the 6th time I was operated upon (could make a good bio-data for the catalogue). That I am still alive is a miracle. . . .


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