Lucie Marchelot: Where do you find the inspiration to paint?
BalrajKhanna: “The question of inspiration is a very tricky one in the sense that inspiration has its own way of manifesting itself in you. In my case, I think that my inspiration comes from the people close to me, people I love really. Also from nature, and from some other artists. Literature; the written word is very important for me, but mostly it is observing, seeing things and I like to think that sometimes I feel that something that I’m looking at I have seen it a hundred times before, but sometimes suddenly they appear to me to be as if I was looking at them for the first time in my life.”
Lucie Marchelot: Where do you find the inspiration to paint?
BalrajKhanna: The question of inspiration is a very tricky one in the sense that inspiration has its own way of manifesting itself in you. In my case, I think that my inspiration comes from the people close to me, people I love really. Also from nature, and from some other artists. Literature; the written word is very important for me, but mostly it is observing, seeing things and I like to think that sometimes I feel that something that I’m looking at I have seen it a hundred times before, but sometimes suddenly they appear to me to be as if I was looking at them for the first time in my life.
Curiosity, wanting to know, wanting to search, looking, searching and finding; all this comes in the packet of inspiration. There are moments in life when you really feel inspired, you feel possessed. A friend of mine used to say “Balraj, you are a man possessed.” I said, “Are you insulting me?” She said “No, it’s a compliment that your belief in yourself, can be very inspirational in its own way.”
LM: Is it true that Francis Newton Souza lived in your house? Can you tell us more about your relationship to him?
BK: I met Francis Souza within the very first few days of my arrival here. That was the winter of 1962-63, the winter of discontent. It was the most awful winter. I had an introduction to him. When I came from India, my professor at university had given me five introductions. Two of them were very distinguished, very famous artists, Francis Souza and Avinash Chandra. The third person was the Keeper Emeritus of the Indian section at the V&A, W.G. Archer. The fourth person was an art critic at the time of the Guardian newspaper called George Butcher. The fifth was the Indian poet, Don Maurice.
I never met Don Maurice, but I met all the other four, of whom Souza was the first one I had the pleasure, the honor to meet. I was only 22 years old. He was 20 years older than me. I looked up to him as a mentor, and he became from day one. I took to him out of respect and admiration, but he took to me thinking I was a young idiot fool who had some talent but who needed some encouragement and some help to find himself. He instilled a sense of myself in me and we were great friends. We became very great friends to the extent that I started working in his studio. He let me work in his studio.
He then lived in Belsize Park, in a big house, and this mews flat (where I live now), only the first floor of his house, he had bought as kind of a love nest for his very young, new girlfriend who later became his wife, Barbara. Then in 1967, by then he had suffered a very bad press here and his career took a steep decline. As meteoric as his rise had been that, his downfall was equally dramatic. He became a bankrupt. He was bankrupted, in other words, and he decided to go to live in America to try his luck there, which was a bad career move.
Nonetheless as he had this flat, I’d just come back from France, where I left my wife Francine and our two baby daughters. I’d come here to look for a flat and I came to see him in this house, this flat and he said “What are you doing Balraj?” I said “I’m looking for a flat, Francis.” We used to call him Sunny, which was his family surname. He said, “Are you kidding?” I said “No I am not kidding, I need a flat.” “Well you can have this flat, I’m going to New York.” So that’s how it happened. Our friendship continued until the last days of his life, and whenever we met it was great joy. I looked forward to meeting him and he continued to be a source of inspiration. Since you said inspiration, let me go back to that word. People like him are very inspiring for me. Fo example, when I saw him being so committed to himself, to his work, that rubbed off on me. That made me realize how committed I was, I had to be to myself, to my work. Nothing else mattered to me, only my commitment to my work
LM: Is your relationship to India important in your work? How does it manifest?
BK: It’s a very good question and a very important question, in the sense that being an Indian, I’m always interested in my country, in my background. Like everybody, I love my country, even though I love England too, very deeply. But where you were born is very special place for you.It’s also inspirational for me to think of India as a great nation, a great old civilization, which is quite unique in the world, and unique in world of history, which had offered a great deal to the world, and it’s a great source of pride for me. It manifests itself mostly in my writing, all my novels are set in India. Even the book I wrote for children is set in an Indian jungle, called The Raja of the Jungle. Raja being the big tiger. Also a particular type of Indian sense of humor. My writing is supposed to be funny, I can’t write anything serious; it has to be funny by nature. My bond for India continues to flourish.
LM: Tell us about the small format paintings that are going to be revealed to the public for the first time at the occasion of your upcoming exhibition.
BK: I started those small paintings many years ago when I had a bad flu, and I couldn’t really do any big works.Working with a very large canvas requires you to move around all the time. I would just sit down on the sofa, have a drawing board on my lap and small pieces of canvas. I draw upon them,then I painted them in oils; some earlier ones in watercolors, and I enjoyed doing them. You enjoy working in large scale but you’re equally fruitful working in a very small scale.
BalrajKhanna- A Journey of His Own
6-16 June 2013