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The ‘Descent’ant

Author: admin

Artist Haroon Khimani finds inspiration in collapsed structures and their reconstruction, writes Sahil Jaswal

Haroon Khimani doesn’t see gloom and doom in scenes of destruction and devastation. As an artist, the 80 year-old is riveted by ‘ruinscapes’, which inspire him to find beauty in collapsed and broken structures. “There is always a promise of regeneration with destruction, which is nature’s idea of making way for something new,” says the Mumbai-based artist.

Descent is his latest expression, an exhibition of 30 paintings, “some old, some new and some middle-aged”, at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. The exhibition is Khimani’s first in eight years and reflects an evolution in his style, which took an abstract turn at around this time.

Born and raised in Dhandhuka, a city in Ahmedabad district in Gujarat, Khimani discovered the artist in him thanks to a fortunate turn of events. Initially directionless about his future, he moved to Bhavnagar to enrol in college, where he chose commerce as his field of study.

But his soul was restless and the young lad constantly struggled to align art and commerce. After he graduated, to earn a livelihood, Khimani dabbled in commercial projects that played on his artistic skills. It was while he painted signboards with Isabhai Nathubai Talat, a faculty member with the Fine Arts Department at M S University, Vadodara, that Khimani finally found his calling. Taking note of the youngster’s talent, Talat urged Khimani to take up fine arts at the university, which was just the push the budding artist needed.

At the university, the young artist met Prof K G Subramanyan, tutor, painter, sculptor, muralist and a Padma Vibushan winner. The two of them struck up a friendship that would play a pivotal role in the evolution of Khimani’s work.

The turning point came when, during a live painting session in his third year at the university, Khimani expressed discomfort to Prof Subramanyan about the artistic rigours of the time and the restrictions imposed by art pundits on what contemporary art was or should be. This got Khimani a month-long pass to unleash his artistic prowess outside the confines of the art world.

“He was a wonderful teacher,” says Khimani, recalling his mentor, who passed away last year. “Instead of demanding results, he tried to understand my personality and my creative mind. I spent almost a month roaming the streets of Baroda until I stumbled upon a broken mosque. That was the day I stumbled upon the theme ‘Destruction and Reconstruction’, which has been prevalent throughout my work,” reminisces Khimani who, whether in oil, charcoal or woodcuts, has always “attempted to construct the undying soul of nature and tackle its new forms after the destruction”.

However, Khimani soon realised he couldn’t earn a living through art. And while he painted to nourish his soul, he established himself as an art designer in the textile industry. During this time, he also got married and moved to Chennai.

The year 1966 was a watershed for Khimani, who held his first solo exhibition at a private gallery in Chennai. “There were no political figures and no media, so my work didn’t get any attention. But at the exhibition, I met renowned artist and writer J Swaminathan who, on the third day, rebuked the media for not giving my work due attention.” It didn’t take long for a horde of reporters to turn up at the gallery, and praise and awards followed for Khimani.

That same year, Khimani held an exhibition at Taj Art Gallery, sponsored by the British Council, Mumbai. His Dark Tree, which he drew on the spot in crayon and charcoal, was bought by Lalit Kala Akademi for its New Delhi collection.

The next year, he exhibited 20 of his works at Sridharani Art Gallery in Delhi. These were oil, charcoal and crayon paintings. His charcoal and crayon works such as Mosque At End, Debris, After The Earthquake and Demolished perfectly articulated his favourite theme of ‘destruction and reconstruction’.

Despite recognition from the media, Khimani’s uneasy relationship with art was taking a toll and he decided he no longer wanted to juggle art and commerce. So, after eight years of straddling both worlds, he went purely commercial. During the next few years, Khimani worked with many reputed textile mills before he set up his own design business in 1981. He travelled the world, presenting his designs to various hoteliers while also putting down roots in Mumbai, Dubai and Boston.

Instead of ruinscapes, Khimani’s canvas now sported designs for room spreads, magazine holders, restaurant menus, table mats, wardrobe organisers, check-in folders and key-card pouches. Through his company Rikan, he had his hands full, designing for every conceivable amenity.

But even though he was making good money, the artist in him kept tugging him back to his first love. “I was in Boston, where my son and his family live, and a casual discussion with my daughter-in-law about my younger days brought back a flood of memories that reminded me of my love for visceral arts,” recalls Khimani.

The artist had arrived at yet another crossroads. It was 2005 and Khimani took a bold decision: he handed the reins of his business to his son and retired to the ‘life of an artist’. “I returned to India and approached Prof Subramanyan with some of my newer paintings,” he shares. “I had prepared over 300 watercolour paintings as an exercise to get back in touch with my artistic roots. He was glad I had picked up from where I had left off, that I was still attracted to the dramatic interplay between order and chaos He was thrilled to know I was getting back into the art world and looked forward to the heights that I would push my art to.”

When he was finally ready, Khimani mounted his first exhibition in 39 years. Titled Revival, it was held at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in December 2009. It was his shout-out to the world of his resurrection. “I called it Revival as it was a revival of my paintings that I had developed in the ’70s while still holding onto corporate jobs,” he says. “I was unable to complete them then owing to my official engagements. But from 2005 to 2009, I revived my old paintings and hence the word. The exhibition was well received by critics and the media, and that gave me the confidence to grow further.”

And how! Khimani will head to Boston right after his current Mumbai exhibition to prepare for a three-month-long exhibition at the Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The exhibition will open on 9 November. And although I will be carrying forward the same theme, I will give it a more cultural title. I will be calling it Nirmity, which in Sanskrit means ‘creation’.”

Descent by Haroon Khimani will be on at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, from 1 August to 7 August 2017

August 2017