Agarwal’s imprints of surreal moments

Wandering alone — as a child — around a large haveli in his native Amroha (Uttar Pradesh) with its open courtyards, many staircases and large rooms left a permanent impact on Jai Krishna Agarwal. The childhood impressions included architectural elements. Even early in school, he was more interested in drawing and painting but was not encouraged by the elders in the family. While staying with his uncle in Allahabad, a chance meeting with the principal of the Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts, Sudhir Ranjan Khastgir, proved to be a catalyst in changing the course of his life. Seeing the youngster’s drawings, Khastgir suggested he join the college. Agarwal first joined architecture but moved to painting later.

Agarwal first followed the Bengal school trend of that period — water colours and wash technique. Architectural forms became an integral part as he evolved as an artist. “Emerging and descending perspectives, ever-changing shadows with the movement of the sun, caught my attention and I started using them as an additional element,” says Agarwal.

Masters printmaking

Again it was Khastigir who introduced him to print making. Agarwal became adept at making monochromatic and coloured wood cuts and lino cuts. This enterprise alone was enough to make Khastgir set up a department of print making in the Lucknow college. Later, Agarwal moved to Delhi and came under the guidance of the renowned printmaker of Kolkata Somnath Hore. He also went to Baroda and learnt plate lithography under M.V. Joglekar.

A visit to Stonehenge turned out to be a landmark in his journey. The opportunity came thanks to the British Council Scholarship, which sent him to the Slade School of Fine Arts, London (1972-73). The view at dusk was so exciting that Agarwal climbed on a rock to have a better look. “By that time the sky had changed into a mystic canopy of colours,” he recalls. “At a particular moment, nothing was visible except the silhouette of rocks against the last rays of the sun, giving the impression of being on another planet. I shivered with the feeling of weightlessness as if there was nothing under my feet. I was literally floating,” he describes the experience, which was his first print after returning to Slade School.

“Earlier in India, I had similar experiences of cosmic interaction on numerous occasions but I became consciously aware of it on a distant land. From then onwards, I deviated slightly from my style of dealing with infinite spaces,” reveals Agarwal. “Both Time and Space are infinite. Venturing amongst the cluster of monuments in Nepal, walking through the narrow lanes of Vrindavan and Varanasi transport me to a different time zone and I start interpreting them in terms of time and space.”

For translating the intangible into visual forms, Agarwal chose geometrical forms in predominantly deep colours, black playing a lead role along with blue, brown and red. More recently, his Jantar Mantar series has won him much acclaim. Agarwal says about his visit to Jantar Mantar in Jaipur: “It was quite an out of the world experience. For a moment, I felt as if I was surrounded by some sort of celestial activity. I felt as if I was drifting away from the earth’s gravity into the infinite.” He took several photographs from imaginative angles of this architectural marvel. As his age made the physical labour involved in regular print making difficult, he took advantage of modern technology and switched to digital print making, his photographs becoming the subject.

Though he had handled various mediums and materials, it was print making which he chose for his creative expression. His earlier prints were etchings on copper or zinc plates along with fine to coarse aquatints. He has certainly used bright colours but his favourite has been black against white. He enjoys the effect of creating light emerging from darkness. Even the Giclee prints are an extension of his earlier metal plate etchings and aquatints.

From some lively landscapes and portraits of his student days in water colour and wash to his latest Giclee prints, Jai Krihsna Agarwal’s works are on display at his Retrospective show at Varija Gallery, Dakshina Chitra, Chennai, till November 30.

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Printable version | Jul 21, 2021 2:44:51 PM |

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