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Well-known contemporary artist Tom Knechtel, professor at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, has been collecting Indian drawings, paintings, and folk art over a period of 25 years. This month the first public exhibition of his collection, titled “In Delight We Grow,” opens at the Pasadena City College Art Gallery.

This show embraces diverse aspects of the visual culture of India, including artists’ preparatory studies, fantastical notebook drawings, and hand-drawn instructional charts for meditation. While most of the approximately 30 works in the show date from the 18th or 19th century, the collection ranges from a court painting of the Mewar school dated 1680 to small paintings created for religious pilgrims in the year 2000.


This exhibit provides an opportunity to consider India’s art from the perspective of a contemporary American artist steeped in Western art traditions. Knechtel, known for his exquisitely rendered painted tableaux, is a graduate of CalArts.

As he writes in a brochure accompanying the show, Knechtel finds Indian painting to be an ongoing source of “euphoria,” because it “offers such a powerful antidote to the prevailing aesthetics of Western painting. The straitjacket of Western perspective is thrown away, and in its place is a rich and complex re-imagining of how space, landscape, and architecture can be represented. Color is approached as a set of powerful subtle juxtapositions, as often as not descriptive of emotional states rather than physical reality. Above all, it is painterly, attuned to nuances of touch and the trail of a brushed line, to adjustments of form and color, synthesizing information from the throbbing variegated world into relationships on a flat surface. As such, Indian art continues to challenge my own sense of what painting can be.”


Knechtel’s collection reflects his curiosity about how paintings come to be, as well. Much of the exhibit consists of drawings, many of them produced as a byproduct of the painting process. Layered with invented figures, carefully individualized portraits, and revisions of compositional ideas, these drawings provide intimate access to the anonymous artists’ underlying processes of working out a painting. Along with the work of classical Indian painters, Knechtel’s collection embraces Indian folk art, including several “yantra” drawings that reflect the distinct folk cultures of India. (Yantras are charts made by an artist or a guru to guide a devotee through a religious meditation.


The title of the exhibition is drawn from the Upanishads, the sacred scriptures of India written between the eighth and fourth centuries BC:

From Delight we came into existence
In Delight we grow
At the end of our journey’s close
Into Delight we retire.

Sept. 6-Oct. 21. Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday-Saturday 12-4 p.m., closed Sundays. Public reception Sept. 7, 6–8 p.m. Public talks by Tom Knechtel and Indian art specialist Ed Rothfarb. Pasadena City College Art Gallery, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Free. (626) 585-7721.

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 36-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...