K. Koria - From One Name to Another

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From one name to another


“Creativity takes courage” Henri Matisse

I am the proud daughter of Kamal Koria. I have

Where it all began...

watched with fascination as my father crafted

Kamal Koria is the youngest of five children.

a career as an artist; overcoming his lows and

His mother passed away when he was three

reaching incredible highs. He has set an example

years old. His father ran a Timber Merchant

of how to take it in your stride and know it will

business to support his family. With very little

be ok, to trust and have faith in yourself.

parental guidance, Kamal became self-sufficient,

My father has shared many stories with me.

guided by his curiosity, interest and desire to

From his earliest memory he describes a life

escape formal education; Kamal walked along

where I did not exist and for me, his narratives

the periphery of India’s education system.

create vivid sepia toned mini movies. These stories have been turning points, moments of reflection, downfalls and celebrations, stories significant enough to remember and share.

In Education... Kamal's earliest memories of school life were of being punished, with this negative experience leaving a lasting impact on his remaining years in school. During his early years at school, he used every opportunity to draw, but was repeatedly discouraged and told that he was wasting time, Kamal soon learned to keep his talents hidden from fear of punishment. Feeling inspired... One day, en route to school, Kamal’s attention was drawn to a man painting a shop signboard. He watched as the skilled hand transformed the space through colour, shape and form. Fascinated by what he saw, Kamal approached the man and asked to borrow some brushes and some paint. Eager to serve his curious mind, Kamal gathered wooden boards and spent the next few days attempting to create a portrait of his grandma. With trial and error, he experimented his way to create a series of painted portraits. Each one was left to dry in the garden and when a family friend, a lawyer, came for tea, he saw Kamal’s works and requested a commissioned portrait of his own grandma. He paid 20 rupees which Kamal used to purchase his first paint and brush. The portrait still hangs at the lawyer’s home today. This was when Kamal realised that art pays!

Curiosity... Kamal used whatever materials he could find,

the school cricket team he found himself quickly

borrow, steal or make, to teach himself to draw

earning respect for his cricketing abilities. Whilst

and paint. He cut hairs from people and various

continuing to pursue art in his spare time, it wasn’t

animals, including dogs, cows and horses to create

long before his peers discovered his hidden talents

the perfect paintbrush; he ‘borrowed’ paper and

and they persuaded him to paint a mural the night

paints from his older brother, pilfered wood

before a school event. Without official permission,

from his father’s business and was given charcoal

Kamal proceeded to create the mural on the

by his arts teacher. When he was not climbing

condition that he remained anonymous. The next

trees, playing cricket or causing mischief with his

day, he was called to the headmaster’s office,

friends, the young Kamal spent his time drawing,

and Kamal feared that he would be found out

experimenting and learning with the limited tools

and berated. To his surprise, the headmaster

available to him. During summer breaks, he earned

congratulated Kamal on his ‘art’ and encouraged

pocket money by painting signboards for

him to enter an art competition comprising schools

businesses around the town.

all over Gujarat. Kamal created eight A1 Portraits of Nehru, as well as a selection of small paintings

Young Artist Discovered

which depicted scenes from the war between India

In his teenage years Kamal moved schools and

and Pakistan. For the first time in the school’s 102

once again his early fears of being caught ‘wasting

year history, his school not only received a prize,

time’ drawing and painting returned. Kamal,

but had gained first place! Kamal was honoured

convinced that he could no longer pursue art

by the headmaster with a day off for the whole

became involved in the cricket team. After joining


In his final year of High School, Kamal did not think he

qualify him to become a local doctor. Once qualified,

would pass his end of year exams. A professor who

he planned to move to the Himalayas and practice

recognised his lack of enthusiasm and realised his

as a Doctor to fund his passion for the arts. He failed

potential suggested that Kamal needed to stay at

his first term. Ashamed and afraid that he had

home for two months to avoid distraction and revise

disappointed his family, Kamal planned to return

for the exams ahead of him. For this short period,

home to let his family know. At the same time, he

Kamal spent time focusing on his studies and returned

was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was asked to

to school to complete his exams. Convinced that he

return home to recover. He never told his family of

would have failed and not ready to disappoint his

his failed attempt and used his illness as a reason

family, Kamal did not go to collect his results.

to not return to his course. Whilst recovering, he

Days later he heard from a school friend that he had

happened to hear about an art college in Ahmedabad.

passed with good grades in all subjects. Armed with

He applied and was successful in enrolling at

hope and a new found confidence he decided to put

CN College of Fine Arts. Now he could finally, openly

his life plan into action.

focus on developing his passion. Where he would end

The Plan...

up was not a question any more, he was ready to enjoy

Mesmerised by the beauty of the Himalayan

the creative journey.

landscape, depicted in movies he had watched as a boy, Kamal decided that he wanted to live there. Now with his grades, Kamal registered at a science college to complete a two year course which would

College years... Kamal started college with high expectations and was determined to finally be taught the arts. He was quickly disappointed however, as he realised that his peers were at very early stages of their artistic endeavours and he had alone accomplished so much more than them. This frustration led him to attend college less frequently. One day, the students were asked to create an advertising campaign which was to be judged by an external advertising company. Kamal created a campaign and displayed it with his class work. Despite his lack of attendance, Kamal’s work was highlighted as an example of what an advertising campaign should be. Confident that he was not falling behind, he continued to spend days away from his classroom. Kamal continued the remaining years without paying his fees and registered as an outside student to complete his exams. During his third year exams, Kamal contracted tuberculosis again. Despite his ill health, Kamal registered once again as an outside student and took his exams whilst being permitted to leave every 15-20mins to cough up blood. Kamal was the only outsider who passed that year. During his fourth year, Kamal received a letter from his father requesting that he returned home to spend time with him. His father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and was unlikely to survive. Kamal returned home for six months and dedicated time to his father until he passed away. Soon after, Kamal returned to Ahmedabad, conscious of not wanting to be a burden on his brother and his growing family. Once again, he avoided paying his college fees, choosing to spend his money on living expenses instead. The impact of his father’s death caused him to become introverted, spending his time in tea shops focusing on his own thoughts and ideas and filling sketchbooks.

During his final year exams, Kamal requested to qualify in illustration. With no professor of illustration within the college and the exam having a reputation as being extremely challenging, the College Dean laughed at his arrogant request and advised against registering, though suggested that ultimately as an outside student, it was his choice. Defiant and confident Kamal began his three day exam a day and a half late. He became the first student to pass the Illustration exam in six years.

After college...... Back in Kamal’s penultimate year of college, he was offered a job and partnership at a small advertising company. Unsure about taking on such a role, he chose to continue his studies with the promise of joining the company after graduating two years later. The partner set up a small business with a position ready for Kamal. Upon completing his diploma, Kamal was advised that this potential partner had died only days earlier in a motorbike accident. With no other immediate opportunities, he worked freelance for a year in Ahmedabad, rented a room and eventually got a job with an established advertising company. This was it, or so he thought. Kamal quickly got bored of the monotony of the role, and frustrated with feeling unchallenged, he left to continue his freelance work. The UK beckoned ... At twenty-six years of age, Kamal was offered the chance to come to the UK. Upon planning to come to the UK, Kamal was shown a photograph of a girl, with the prospects of marriage. Kanta was from Kenya and had settled in the UK two years earlier. Over the following years, Kamal and Kanta exchanged regular letters, sharing details about their lives and what they hoped to achieve. During these years, Kamal was offered numerous posts with a leading newspaper, director of a magazine and a partnership in an advertising company. Kamal continued to freelance knowing that he had made a commitment to Kanta. Two days before he was due to fly, he was offered an opportunity to become a film set designer with the prospect of eventually becoming the art director. He was advised not to come to the UK, as he was an Asian Artist and would not be respected and opportunities would be very hard to come by. Unsure and still not ready to make any long-term commitments, Kamal left India assuming he would soon return. His intentions were to just go on an adventure, so sure of this, he even promised his then girlfriend in India that he would soon return. He was convinced that Kanta or her parents would not accept him once they got to know him and his intention of working in the arts. Kamal arrived in the UK in February 1977, with no money and a small suitcase. He met Kanta at the airport, cold and tired. In the days to come, he struggled with the new way of life becoming a reality as he quickly accepted that he would not return home, choosing to share a future with Kanta instead. They married on April 23. Once married they used Kanta’s small wage to rent a little room in a shared house with a paraffin stove for heating.

Realisation.... When he first arrived in the UK, Kamal’s ambition of making money from the arts was quickly dismissed by others and he was advised to work in a factory; as it would be all that would be available to him. Convinced and disappointed that there were no opportunities in the arts, Kamal resigned himself to work in a factory. He was interviewed for a job in a Vauxhall car factory. At the interview, Kamal was checked for his strength, height, weight and even teeth; he describes it as being treated like an animal. When it came to his eye check-up, Kamal was asked to list the colours that he saw. Kamal correctly identified each colour then stated that he could recognise a thousand more. The elderly optician asked what his previous occupation was, and Kamal described himself as artist. The elderly optician suggested that he should leave right away to pursue his ambition, as if he gets this job, he will never leave. This was a turning point for Kamal, and from then on he focused himself entirely on achieving a career in the arts.

Kamal became aware of a nearby Photographic studio, Lakhani Art Studio in Leicester. Kamal offered to colourise black & white photographs for the studio. Mr Lakhani advised that many have tried and failed which was why the studio continued to send pictures to India to be colourised. He was reluctantly persuaded to offer Kamal a one week trial. Kamal spent the rest of his day researching, purchasing materials and trialling numerous techniques and returned with a coloured photo the very next day. Mr Lakhani was thoroughly impressed and hired Kamal as a freelance artist straightaway. Word soon spread and Kamal was offered a position with Chatham Printers to be an Artworker. Now feeling settled with a small but comfortable salary, Kamal again began to feel unchallenged and wanted something more.

Kamal was advised about an illustration job for greeting cards in Coalville. He went to visit the studio and requested an opportunity to illustrate a greeting card. The manager advised that the role was very challenging, and although dubious, offered advice and an art board to see what this artist could achieve. Kamal once again researched his subject and went to the Gaddesby Art Shop to purchase more materials. The shop owner asked to see his work, and was admiring of it Recognising his talent, the owner was keen to see him succeed and offered advice, made suggestions and help to problem solve. On this occasion, Kamal came to purchase an airbrush and compressor, though for the cost of ÂŁ450 this was completely unaffordable at the time. The faithful Gadesby manager offered to give the airbrush and compressor upfront and requested small payments each time he visited. Kamal researched and practiced various techniques to finally achieve a completed artwork after 25 days. The manager for the card company offered him ÂŁ19 (a lot of money at the time) for the artwork and a stream of more freelance work. His dedicated focus on creating greeting cards kept him away from his job at Chatham Printers. Upon returning there to give his notice, his employers advised that he had been fired. Though realising his potential, the company parted with him on good terms and regularly offered freelance work. And so it was, Kamal established a career as a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator.

Challenge Accepted Kamal is a great believer in not focusing on the end result, his advice in life is always to keep learning, work hard, enjoy the journey and the results will surprise you. Kamal pursued this new found career with curiosity and a determination to prove his ability. He wanted to be challenged and was always ready to give something a go even if he was advised against it. On one such occasion, Kamal was contacted by a young Indian man who had a film publishing company. This man had placed a bet with his English business partner for £150 on Kamal’s ability to produce cover designs for a series of English films. His English partner was adamant that their current artist was best for the job and that it would be impossible for someone from India to match or better the current artist’s ability. Ready for the challenge, Kamal promised the young Indian man that the money would be his. Kamal was given a title and a brief story line. Kamal created the design within a few days and invited both partners to come and see the work. The English partner handed the £150 to Kamal, shaking his hand and telling him that he was the real winner and gave him a contract producing artworks for their future films. Eventually, due to another more serious dispute between the partners, the company was dissolved after a year. Soon after, there was a knock on Kamal’s door one evening. The gentleman at the door asked if he was Kamal Koria, and with confirmation that he was indeed Kamal Koria, he was handed a list of 12 films to create designs for. Kamal Koria insisted that the gentleman at least see his work first, but the gentleman exclaimed ‘I have been looking for you for over a year! I have seen what you can do!’. With that, a price was agreed and Kamal set about working on his next challenge.

K.Koria, the artist... With his reputation continuing to grow, Kamal was

K.Koria international acclaim as an artist. As demand

approached by a new printing company that wanted

for more wedding cards continued, another gap in the

to launch their business with the UK’s first Indian

market for Diwali cards was recognised. His first set of

wedding invitations; prior to this, cards were always

Diwali card designs also became popular around the

imported from India. Kamal designed a set of 10 cards.

world, with his style becoming iconic, and the annual

These cards became very popular, reaching all around

release of new designs eagerly awaited each year.

the world; creating success for the company and gaining

So far K.Koria, had only received commissions for clients

however he refused. K.Koria enjoyed the variety of

based within the East Midlands, but word of his artistic

challenges and freedom of choice of being a freelancer,

ability reached Multitone, a London based music

and he suggested that they offered him one commission

publishing company that worked in partnership with

at a time. Bhangra music became wildly popular and

BMG. Kamal was asked to create a record cover design

even filtered into mainstream music. The cover designs

for a Bhangra music album. The album was a big success

have now become collector’s items with those who

and Multitone offered him a long-term contract,

listened to Bhangra as their 90’s soundtracks.

Once computers were introduced into graphic design,

provide a regular income, allowing family life to continue

works created by hand were no longer in demand.

when times were hard. Most of all, she supported his

K.Koria took this as an opportunity to finally focus

decision to pursue the arts with undoubted faith and

on creating works that he wanted to create. Now in his

encouraged him when times were tough. Behind this

retirement, K.Koria has had a successful, multi-award

successful artist is a woman who has lovingly supported

winning career, working his way through sketchbooks

him and his ‘artistic tendencies’.

and transforming these sketches into paintings to create a prolific collection of work that adds colour to our lives

K.Koria and Kanta had three daughters. We were

in a literal sense as well as philosophical way.

raised in a house full of ‘grown-up’ art materials and equipment; keeping us endlessly entertained.

The key to his success... My mum has been the ultimate key to my dad's success, supporting him in every way; from midnight cups of tea when he worked through the night or finding that one piece of paper amongst the piles that he created in his haphazard style of working. She did not seek luxuries in life and found happiness in all that she had. She continued a steady job in hosiery as a lockstitcher to

We watched our father turn white spaces into works of art and felt inspired to learn, discover and create. The bar was set high and we each had aspirations to reach it. The Arts have reached through the veins of our family, branching from one generation to the next, inspiring each of us to take risks and pursue the arts in some way.

In 2018, K.Koria had his first solo show in the East Midlands. The success of all that he has achieved, was realised in the comments that were shared... ‘...very enticing work, so warm and colourful. A tremendous exhibition’ ‘...definitely worth stopping to look closely as there are stories behind each picture. Very evocative of the culture and characters.’

‘Marvellous – really beautiful and poetic. Loved the stylised figures and the way colours and textures are used. Gorgeous.’ ‘This exhibition restores my faith in the recuperative power of art. Its beauty and vision, texture and gentleness.’

Today, K.Koria continues to sketch and paint for

through to the sketchbook; K.Koria creates works that

passion, enjoying his much searched for freedom.

will eventually adorn someone’s wall, all over the world.

In his conservatory studio; from his mind’s eye right

Farmers Family 100cm x 80cm Acrylic on Canvas

Four Ladies 70cm x 50cm Acrylic on Canvas

Waiting 60cm x 20cm Acrylic on Canvas

Family Journey 40 cm x 80 cm Acrylic on Canvas

Mother & Child 40cm x 40cm Acrylic on Canvas

Gold Leaf Buddha 70cm x 55 cm Acrylic on Canvas

Published September 2019 by Charnwood Arts - People Making Places Copyright Charnwood Arts and individual authors. All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo-copying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher or the authors. Authors: Text and Design - Khyati Koria- Green Images: Kamal Koria and Khyati Koria- Green