Spotlight Art

Master printmaker-sculptor Krishna Reddy’s works are on show in Kolkata

Great Clown print by Krishna Reddy.

Great Clown print by Krishna Reddy.

Whirls and eddies and bombardments of subtle but striking colours embossed on a paper surface reflect the mysterious process of germination and birthing in nature, and myriad other experiences, in the works of Krishna Reddy (1925–2018), master printmaker, teacher and sculptor.

It was at Santiniketan that the seeds of this sensibility were planted, when Nandalal Bose — mastermoshai to his students — taught Reddy to wait patiently until nature took him in her embrace. And it would find mature expression in the intaglio prints of Reddy, who in the mid-1950s, alongside British artist Stanley William Hayter and Kaiko Moti (Kaikobad Motiwala) of Bombay, developed the process of colour viscosity printing, a breakthrough in intaglio printing, at Atelier 17, Hayter’s legendary workshop in Paris. Reddy’s prints are being exhibited in Kolkata at Experimenter’s current show, To a New Form (January 18 – March 31)

Reddy was born to farmhands in an Andhra village, although his father also made sculptures for the local temple. Unlettered until 10 or 11, Reddy displayed a flair for painting deities. His first teacher was the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, and he was sent to Santiniketan, aged 16, in 1943, the year of the Bengal famine. In Kolkata, he would help cremate the bodies of famine victims — his first lessons in anatomy, he would later comment. And he found his mentors, Bose and Ramkinkar Baij, at Santiniketan.

To a New Form sculpture by Krishna Reddy.

To a New Form sculpture by Krishna Reddy.

But Reddy sailed to London in 1949, and through the good offices of Krishnamurti, joined the Slade, where he trained under Henry Moore and Lucian Freud. He moved to Paris in 1951, where he was apprenticed to the Russian artist Ossip Zadkine. Next came Hayter’s Atelier 17; Reddy became its co-director in 1965. In later days , he used to recount how all the stars of Parisienne Bohemia would gather in a “small street”, where he encountered Constantin Giacometti and Alberto Brancusi.

He was in Paris for two decades, but frequently visited America, where he settled down permanently in 1976 and established the Color Print Atelier. Besides being a celebrated artist, Reddy had made a name for himself as a teacher, with teaching posts at prestigious universities. No wonder his studio stacked with printing tools and plates drew students from all over the world. He may have worked abroad for the better part of his life, but Reddy never forsook the legacy of Santiniketan.

Among the many pleasures of observing Reddy’s prints is that they appeal both to our visual and haptic senses. What enhances the appeal of this exhibition is the display of the deeply-furrowed original copper and zinc plates that bear a direct impression of Reddy’s creative energies. He used these for printmaking, and the corresponding prints are also on show.

Sculpture was Reddy’s favourite medium of expression, and when he prepared these metal plates for printmaking, he followed a method akin to relief sculpting, gouging and incising the metallic surface till it was left with a fine network of gorges and trenches that formed the image — the first step towards making prints that bear the polychromatic Reddy hallmark. The same plate was covered with multiple colour inks of different thickness or viscosity and pressed on paper to produce an image in a range of amazing shades. The image itself appeared in low relief on the paper surface, not unlike the raised welts on alligator skin.

Maternity print by Krishna Reddy.

Maternity print by Krishna Reddy.

In an interview for an online journal in 2016, Reddy said: “...Starting in the early 50s I worked on a series of prints, which were built up as I used burins and scrapers and they became like sculptures...I used mostly hand tools but later on I also began to use machine tools..”

He maintained that “Geometry is the clay with which I build my pot.” His early prints displayed here demonstrate how he established a sense of order on the chaos of creation through a strong sense of structure and harmony, be it in the blooming flowers, spider webs, whirlpools, the seedling pushing its way to sunlight, the tragi-comic Great Clown , the Woman of Sunflower , or Violence and Sorrow , with images that veer between the figurative and abstraction. This is his “insight into the mysterious sources and inner workings of reality”, whittling a form down to its essence.

Reddy declared: “I draw all the time. It is the lifeline of an artist.” In his series of drawings from doodles and squiggles to full figures, the underlying principles of his sculptures and the influence of Ramkinkar’s dymanism become apparent. In 1942, he made posters in support of Gandhi, and in Paris he did the same for the defiant Algerians, for which he was arrested several times. During the 1968 student uprising, Reddy made Demonstration, a print series featuring protesters with raised arms, and sculptures of the same name.

Hayter once commented that Reddy’s “...earliest sculptures manifestly convey the feeling of torque and torsion”. And this is articulated through his drawings and the tortuous To A New Form , which Reddy cast in plaster in Paris in 1968, and which he recast in bronze at the Modern Art Foundry, New York, in 2017.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Rabindranath’s words about Nandalal Bose — “ him art is a living matter. He knows it through his vision and through empathy...” — are as applicable to the student as to the master.

The writer focuses on Kolkata’s vanishing heritage and culture.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2022 9:30:21 pm |