Govind Kanhai a painter from Vrindavan the city of Lord Krishna, has earned the reputation of a versatile artist whose symbolic story telling has transcended from the era of ancient gold art to the current modern day contemporary paintings.
In fact, 53-year-old Govind has added new dimensions to famous Kanhai Art with his contemporary style. His glorious work finds appreciation with the creme-de-le-creme of society including the homes of the likes of ‘Big B’ Amitabh Bachchan and Business Tycoon Anil Ambani. One of the themes of his paintings is the moods and moments of Lord Krishna’s life in Vrindavan who had mesmerised people with his magnetic charm of his charismatic personality.
In this exclusive interview to Absolute India, the artist talks about his journey from ancient gold paintings to his great contemporary works and how he has been able to express his thoughts through his paintings.
Can you tell us about Kanhai School of Gold paintings and your role in promoting this ancient art?
Kanhai school of Gold Painting was started by my father Late Kanhai Chitrakar who had 60 years ago revived this ancient art which was on the verge of extinction. My father promoted this painting art and under his leadership, I too ventured into Gold painting. The essence of this traditional art was the use of gold in the form of ink or foils which was applied on the embossed portions in paintings, often accompanied by precious stones. Even at a young age, I was an expert in Gold embossing and gradually I mastered the art. So I inherited this legacy from my father.
How did your interest grow in paintings?
I was not forced into this profession but was persuaded by my family to apply gold on embossed portions in the painting because I was good at this job. In the early hours every day, I worked on the paintings and during the day I attended college. This is the area I ultimately specialised in and almost all the traditional Kanhai Gold Paintings had my touch on gold embossing. This was a highly specialised field and Gold embossing stood out as the most striking feature in paintings. Thus, my interest grew further, and I went on to become a master in this highly specialised area of gold embossing.
How do you draw inspiration when you work on a painting?
When I was a teen, I had a privilege to feel proximity to Lord Krishna and sense his playful benign presence. In later years, I explored and charted other philosophical panorama — creating a remarkable series on Sufism and on the exalted visions of Rumi, the Turkish poet and mystic. I have also done 3D paintings. Also, before I start painting, I read spiritual literature like Bhagwat Gita and poems of great saints. This gives me the inspiration to do my work. Basically, when I start painting I ensure that there is a story to tell. A mere look at the painting should be enough to tell a story and our effort is that the paintings should look richer.
What is the life span of your paintings, particularly Kanhai Gold Paintings? Are Gold paintings still popular?
Generally speaking, the life of Kanhai Gold paintings is minimum 100 years and could last even more, depending upon its maintenance and upkeep. Yes, Gold paintings are still liked by some people, but younger generation now-a-days prefer contemporary art works and hence we do a lot of modern paintings to cater to the demand of young population. But still there is a small demand for Gold paintings which have their own beauty and grandeur.
How your paintings differ from others? What is so unique about them?
Our paintings are absolute unique. They are connected with lifestyle of people and look richer and wealthier. Basically, every painting has a story to tell. In the paintings, our focus has also been on Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and God Shiva which again connects people with life style.
Can you name few VIPs whose homes are decorated with Kanhai paintings?
Some of the few VIPs who have our paintings are Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Ambani, Yash Birla, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Amar Singh, Subrato Roy. Even Late Rajiv Gandhi had assigned us the task of making a portrait of his grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which we had delivered many years ago.
Where are your works and paintings displayed? Which is your workplace?
Our paintings are displayed at our Art Gallery in Vrindavan. We also have a studio in Vrindavan. At least 15 to 20 days every month I am stationed at Vrindavan where I undertake paintings at the studio.
How would you describe the transition from Kanhai Gold Paintings to Govind Kanhai Art?
The transition has been smooth. Earlier, people preferred the ancient art and hence the use of gold in paintings but now the youngsters prefer contemporary paintings. Even in modern paintings, gold is used though in limited space. In contemporary art, the focus is on the painting objects like the crown or the dress and not on ornaments of gold. From Kanhai Gold Paintings to Govind Kanhai Art, the journey has been interesting and full of rich experiences.
Do you think that demand for Kanhai Paintings would continue to exist further or whether you may have to switch to some other phase to save this art from extinction?
In my opinion, Art will never die and would always be patronised. Whether it is Kanhai Art or Govind Kanhai School of Art, paintings would continue to inspire people and influence their thought process. There will always be a demand for ancient or contemporary paintings depending upon personal choice of people. We are now contributing to contemporary paintings because Govind Kanhai school of art wants to give something more to the younger generation.
How would you ensure that Govind Kanhai school of art continues to exist?
I have three sons and the younger son, Parth, is now assisting me in paintings. He started working with me about 18 months back and is doing a wonderful job. I hope he would transform into a great painter and keep our family flag flying high in the times to come.
Can you briefly describe some of your great works?
I have made portraits of former Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Assembly speakers which have been installed in the central hall of Vidhan Bhavan. Like the Gold paintings that grace the well decorated Board rooms and the alcoves of the affluent, it is privilege to line the corridors of power with the visages of leadership.
What is your message to the younger generation?
My message to younger generation is that they should not remain cut off from their roots and family ties. Our culture is very rich, and it would continue to inspire the younger generation to adopt moral values and work wholeheartedly for the benefit of the people and nation.