S.K. Sahni: Reimagining Line and Space
S.K. Sahni is a senior Indian artist based in New Delhi. He received the Government Diploma of Art (Painting) from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1966, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Delhi in 1970 and Master of Art (Drawing & Painting) from Meerut University in 1977. Later, he also completed a postgraduate diploma in Museology from M.S. University, Baroda. Sahni worked in the National Children’s Museum, National Bal Bhavan, New Delhi (1962-72) and with the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (1973-95); he retired as its Keeper (curator) in 1995. He has held 20 solo exhibitions, including ‘Lines of Vision’ (101 works of the last two decades) at AIFACS Gallery (2001); ‘Linear Explorations’, curated by E. Alkazi at Art Heritage, New Delhi (2007), ‘Symphony of Straight Lines’ (2009), and ‘Space A to Z’ (2013) at Shridharani Gallery, New Delhi. A retrospective exhibition of his works (1962-2014) was held at AIFACS Galleries in 2016; his works were also exhibited at the India Art Fair in 2018.
Among his many awards, Sahni has received the Junior (1991-94) and Senior (1996-98) Fellowships from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India; the National Exhibitions Award AIFACS 1996, 1998 and 2005; as well as the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award in 1999. His work has also been shown internationally, including at the Museum of Geometric & MADI Art, Dallas, Texas in the US, and has been featured in the publication Journey of the Straight Line by Dr S.S. Bhatti, Former Principal, College of Architecture, Chandigarh. S.K. Sahni’s works are in many prestigious public and private collections in India and abroad such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Government Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh; The Alkazi Collection of Art; and the Osian Foundation.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
SKS: When I was in class VIII at Kapurthala in 1952, my drawing teacher was the first to ignite the spark of art in me. He would bring one of his small works to the class to show us and he encouraged my first attempts. Later, in 1954 at Patiala, a signboard painter had a shop in front of our house and he was quite friendly with me. I used to spend a lot of my time with him, watching and helping him; I learned a lot of the basics of art from him. After my matriculation, I joined the Draftsman Civil course as it was related to drawing and later on went to Bombay (now Mumbai) to join Sir JJ School of Arts.
After my return from Bombay I painted in oil during 1962-72, more in an expressionistic style. During this period I had opportunities to meet lots of artists, see their works, and listen to talks and participate in discussions around art. Joining NGMA and listening to the talks by the then Director Dr L.P. Sihare to the students persuaded me to discover my own path and I decided to use the straight line for creating my works.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
SKS: Since my works are abstract and not subject based, it does not deal with inner or outer realities of life. As such, I have no project to pursue for my work. I start my work on empty space on paper or canvas without any preconceived image or thought. My urge to create from inside is my only motivation.
Kaleidoscopic Space – II, Acrylic on canvas, 60 inches × 48 inches, 2009
Space – XXXVII, Acrylic on canvas, 34.5 inches × 38.5 inches, 2016
Space – XXXV, Acrylic on canvas, 38.5 inches × 36.3 inches, 2016
Space D-4, Acrylic on canvas, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2009
Space – XIV, Acrylic on canvas, 34.5 inches × 34.5 inches, 2010
Space – XVIII, Acrylic on canvas, 37 inches × 34.5 inches, 2012
Space D-21, Acrylic on canvas, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2020
Space – XXV, Acrylic on canvas, 33.9 inches × 35.8 inches, 2014
Space within space – 14, Acrylic on canvas, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2018
Space D-23, Acrylic on canvas, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2020
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
SKS: Contemporary art becoming multidisciplinary is a reflection of the present time to which my response is very positive. But for my works, I continue to follow my own path in spite of my desire to use technology for creating my works.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
SKS: Yes, art can certainly be used as a tool for social upliftment. But my works are about self-expression.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
SKS: Since I worked with straight lines, I don’t use any easel. I work keeping my canvas or paper flat on the table.
Mostly, I start my work directly and few initial lines drawn on the surface actually guide me to follow my next moves. However, sometimes I do take mathematics into account for deciding the divisions. In one of my works, right in the beginning, I decided that all my lines would be 11 cm in length. It was a challenge but at the same time an opportunity to reach an out-of-the-box result.
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
SKS: British writer Maggie O’Farrell and the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize said,
“It has been a strange year for everyone – and it’s far from over yet. Any person who has come through a severe illness will know that the experience changes you forever. . . . We will emerge from this but we will be different. We will never be able to go back to a time before this pandemic.”
And it is going to be true for art too. Art as a business will change; it will specially affect the gallery system. There would also be changes in representation of human suffering.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice . Does it get reflected
in your art?
SKS: I’m very fond of reading. I read all kinds of literature from serious articles to short stories and about art. I would spend a lot of my time in the J.J. School of Art Library. My joining the National Gallery of Modern Art provided me ample opportunities to read books on art and art magazines. I handled its Art Collection and the exhibitions of Indian and Western Masters, which made me think a lot and laid the foundation for my present series of works.
(All images are courtesy of the artist S.K. Sahni.)
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