Born in Kamilia in the canal colonies of pre-Partition Punjab, Kanwal Krishna lived the life, he said, ‘of a wandering gypsy’. In the Fifties, several artists began to explore landscape painting as a separate genre in order to establish a modernist language. In India, this genre came through the travelling artists among whom Kanwal Krishna’s work stood out. Krishna sought his inspiration from personal and direct encounters with the forces of nature as he travelled to forbidden Tibet, Kashmir, Europe and other places.
In 1945, Krishna and his artist-wife Devyani were invited by the governor of N.W.F.P., Sir George Cunningham, to travel across Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass, the Swat valley and surrounding areas to paint its landscape and life. In Tibet, he was one of the earliest observers, and the first Indian painter who was allowed special permission to attend the coronation of the Dalai Lama, an event he painted and filmed. His drawings from that encounter were some of the earliest visual reference for the British government as were as for Indians of life and the landscapes of this protected Shangrila.
Krishna’s paintings reflect his mastery over perspective and depth through strange angles and curvature observed in the outdoor environment. The textures and tones achieved by his sensitive brushwork and a restrained palette are laudable. The inanimate entities in his work do not behave as a dead mass but are imbued with signs of life.
A master printmaker, he would influence a generation of printmakers in India with his technique and style. Krishna was associated with several art groups such as the Delhi Silpi Chakra and the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.