Evolving new images

THE Southern Graphics Council of America has bestowed its highest honour - the Printmaker Emeritus Award 2000 - on Andhra-born Krishna Reddy, in recognition of his historic contribution in the field of graphic art and his involvement in art education for over half a century. The award was presented in March at the Council's 28th annual conference jointly organised by the University of Miami and Florida International University.

Since 1977, Krishna Reddy has been a professor and artist-in- residence in New York University serving as the Director of Graphics and Printmaking in the Art Department. Most recently, he has been involved in the development of a new process in printmaking which could be called broken colour or pointillist colour printing process. Using techniques of plate preparation such as aquatint, mezzotint, photo engraving and deep biting, he has succeeded in developing colour fields in printing with juxtaposed dots or broken colours in such a way that relatively simple technical means and only a few colours could be used to create greater intensity and activity in the interplay of colours.

Asserting that this method, when fully developed and perfected, would bring about a tremendous change in printmaking because it would both simplify technical processes while creating powerful colour areas never realisable before, Prof. Reddy says: "I propose to execute a series of plates exploring these colour processes. As my awareness of the expressive potentialities of these methods has grown, I have begun to realise the need for developing new techniques of plate-preparation and new ways of applying colours to the plate - ways that are so essential for evolving new images in our art."

He adds: "The award will provide me with a period of time in which I can undertake this work that will of course have an impact not only on the printmaking world, but will also contribute in a major way to my growth and development as an artist."

Krishna Reddy, the printmaker, has a unique vision of this world. He is a worshipper of nature and life and his ability to invest each graphic plate with an elemental experience that subtly merges with the spiritual, leads to an intensely satisfying experimentation. To explore the artistic development of Krishna Reddy is like making a journey through time.

Born in 1925 in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, Krishna Reddy went to Santiniketan to study art. Later, with the help of J. Krishnamurthi (who remained a lifelong friend), he travelled to Europe where he spent his most impressionable years in London, France, Rome and Milan, studying sculpture and working with Henry Moore, Ossip Zadkine and Mario Marini. He also had intimate contacts with great artists such as Brancusi and Giacometi, and all these encounters had a profound impact on his work. Ossip Zadkine introduced Krishna Reddy to Stanley William Hayter, a formidable innovator and printmaker who had founded the widely influential print studio - Atelier 17 - in Paris in 1927. It is at Atelier 17 in the early Fifties that the most important developments in Krishna Reddy's life as printmaker took place. It was here that he began to experiment with colour viscosity printmaking - a process that was to revolutionise intaglio printing and ensure his place in the history of graphic arts. He eventually joined Hayter as co-director of Atelier 17.

Trained as a sculptor, Krishna Reddy worked on the plate like a sculpture, carving contours of relief with tools in addition to etching with acid. The discovery that numerous colours could be printed at one time on a single plate was his greatest advancement in the area of printmaking. He worked with a variety of hard to soft rollers, rolling out one colour of ink at a time. As each ink was possessed of a particular viscosity (stickiness), Krishna Reddy showed that several colours could be superimposed, yet kept at different levels of the etched and carved plates. Thus some colours would mix, while others would repel one another. This technical breakthrough effectively eliminated the need to print one colour on the plate at a time, allowing the artist greater freedom and control over his work.

The art that he created from this discovery has been powerful and full of energy, but it is as a master teacher, sharing a lifetime of innovation and research with students and artists, that Krishna Reddy's impact can really be measured. In 50 years of workshops and lectures throughout the United States, Europe and India, he has inspired several generations of artists with his scientific technique, his gentle manner and outlook of life with a stress on the need for the human being to become totally sensitive to the environment. "When you are sensitive," he says, "you can truly be creative - that is the ultimate joy life has to offer."

All through this, Krishna Reddy has maintained a close connection with India, visiting frequently to lecture, meet artists and hold workshops. Far from being based on nostalgia, Krishna Reddy's relationship with his homeland has been an essential aspect of his creative self. For it is a paradoxical fact that his pictorial language with its starkly abstract geometricism owes more to India than to the West. It was in Kalakshetra, Chennai, that he first formulated, as a young student, the principle that has illuminated his work ever since - geometricism. For him geometrical forms represent those essential but always veiled principles of order that constitute appearance.

"Geometry," as he says, "is the clay with which I build my pot". Thus every one of Krishna Reddy's prints is an experiment in clarification, both material and spiritual - an attempt to lay bare the forms that make appearance and perception possible. It is in this sense that his work is rooted in the "defining endeavour of Indian thought".

Widely respected both in the east and the west, Krishna Reddy is undoubtedly one of the most important Indian artists of this millennium. He has been honoured with a "Padma Shri" in recognition of his significant contribution to contemporary Indian art.

He has held more than 50 solo exhibitions all over the world, taken part in all major international print biennials and his prints are included in collections of some of the world's foremost museums. He has several important publications on printmaking to his credit and he has been selected as one of the 33 internationally known artists for a portfolio of prints by the "Homage Aux Prix Nobel" series in Sweden in which Miro, Matta, Rosenquist, Vasarely and other artists have been chosen.

After receiving the award, Prof. Reddy said: "I intend to visit South India in the near future and spend some time with the artists in Chennai."


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