Born in 1911 in the Udupi district of Karnataka, Kattingeri Krishna Hebbar belonged to an artisan family. His father would make idols of Lord Ganesha. The background in folk art made him pursue art as a career.
In spite of having been trained in the Western tradition, his work remained soaked in the Indian folk traditions. His idiom was a unique mix of both impressionistic & expressionistic techniques. An acute social concern prompted him to focus on themes like poverty and hunger. On the other hand, his drawings and paintings captured the graceful gestures of dance performances, influenced by his deep study of the classical dance form, Kathak.
During his formative years, he was influenced by Amrita Sher Gill and Paul Gauguin. After initial training in Mysore and then at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, from where he did a Diploma in Painting (1934-38), Hebbar worked as an art instructor there. The artist then visited Europe to study at the Academy Julian (Painting) and Ecole Estinne (Graphics), Paris.
Among his selected posthumous exhibitions are 'An Artist's Quest: K.K Hebbar- A Retrospective', at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bangalore; New Delhi and Mumbai (2011-12); 'The Body Unbound', Rubin Museum of Art, New York (2011-12); ‘Manifestations IV, V, VI', Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi (2011, 2010); 'Indian Art After Independence: Selected Works from the Collections of Virginia & Ravi Akhoury and Shelley & Donald Rubin', Emile Gallery, Hempstead (2009); and 2009 'Bharat Ratna! Jewels of Modern Indian Art' at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2009). Among several prestigious shows and events in which his work featured were the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennale and the Tokyo Biennale, and a series of national exhibitions at Rabindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), New Delhi (1956, 1957 and 1958).
The artist won several awards like ‘Padma Bhushan’, Maharashtra State’s Gaurav Puraskar, Karnataka State Rayotsava Award, Karnataka LKA Award for Distinguished Artists, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Honorary D. Litt. from Mysore University, Fellowship, LKA, New Delhi, Padma shri, National Academy of Art Award for his work ‘Mahim Darga’, LKA, New Delhi, National Academy of Art Award for his work ‘Song of the Field’, LKA, New Delhi, National Academy of Art Award for his work ‘Rhythm’, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, and the First Bombay State Art Award, Mumbai. He was nominated as the Chairman of LKA by the President of India (1980-84). K K Hebbar breathed his last on March 26, 1996.