Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni salutes Krishna Reddy, who is acknowledged across the globe as mahaguru of the graphic arts.

Krishna Reddy is a legendary figure in the international arena of graphics. At a recent conference of the Southern Graphics Council of the University of Miami, Krishna was honoured with the ‘Artist Printmaker Emeritus Award of the year 2000’. Professor Leonard Lehrer, former chairman of the Department of Art and Art Education of New York University (where Krishna works), observed, in his presentation paper, that “Krishna Reddy altered the shape of late 20th-century printmaking”.

Born in Andhra Pradesh, Krishna went to Santiniketan for his early art training. A sumptuous catalogue issued many years ago at a New York Bronx Museum retrospective of his work shows a photograph of him standing beside Sankho Chaudhuri and K G Subramanyan, who were his contemporaries. Those were the days when Santiniketan was dominated by Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ram Kinker Baij, all three of whom had made seminal contributions to the disciplines of painting and sculpture at the alma mater.

Soon, Krishna left for Europe. At this time, he was studying not graphics but sculpture. He apprenticed himself to Henry Moore in England, Mario Marini in Italy and Ossip Zadkine in Paris. “Several years later,” says Lehrer, “at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris, he carried his sculptural experience into the medium of the metal plate which was for him a direct extension of low relief sculpture.

In 1954, Krishna and his artist friend Moti, working within the classic methods of engraving and etching, began experimenting with the possibilities of simultaneous colour printing from a single metal plate. Earlier at Atelier 17, Joan Miro had printed compositions in several colours from a single metal plate. However, Miro’s method proved to be unpredictable and no further research into the problem was pursued.

Krishna Reddy and Moti eventually found that, by analysing the oil content of their inks and by controlling the amount of oil added to the inks being used, a reliable viscosity and intensity of tone could of their inks and by controlling the amount of oil added to the inks being used, a reliable viscosity printing revolutionised intaglio printing and ensured Krishna Reddy’s place in the history of the graphic arts - both through this newly discovered methodology, and no less through the sheer quality and sense of majesty of his prints.

Krishna Reddy’s prints are currently housed in a special gallery of the Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore. From the prints exhibited long ago at Gallery Chemould in Mumbai, one remembers the ‘Apu’ series and the ‘Clown’ series. ‘Apu’ is his adopted daughter, and in the prints she is seen as a child crawling away from the horizon. In the ‘Clown’ series, we see the ambience of the circus enveloping the figures of the clowns. But Krishna’s most memorable prints carry a mystic effulgence, a play of light that is distinctly otherworldly.

Says Lehrer with immense perception, “Krishna’s relationship with his native India is an essential component of his creative expression. The essence of his work lies deep in the Indian metaphysical thought of the Upanishads. In search of unity and oneness behind the flux and complexity of the phenomenal world, it is a search for stability and order in visualising the world with child-like curiosity and wonder. The paradox in his work is that the geometric forms he depicts, always implied [rather] than overt, deal with principles of order and the exquisite synthesis of his own cultures - his work owes more to Madras than to Montparnasse.”

Every major museum print collection in the world includes Krishna’s work. He has held more than a hundred exhibitions all over the world, in the East as well as the West. During the Bronx Museum retrospective, New York school children from nearly 60 institutions were involved in making prints at special workshops held throughout the five-month-long show. Krishna has also codified his discoveries in a book. His Intaglio Simultaneous Colour Printmaking: Significance of Materials and Processes, published in 1988, is a classic.

Many years ago, Krishna conducted a graphics workshop at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay. One saw him rushing into the prints section, sleeves rolled up, to use the roller to distribute the paint on the plate. He maintained no hierarchical difference between himself and the students taking part in the workshop.

The finest praise for Krishna came from Stanley William Hayter, who said about him, “he is an artist with a message rather than one with a series of ingenious devices with an obvious appeal to a potential market… In my Atelier he showed an intimate relationship with Chagall, Miro, Breton, Villon, Brancusi, Giacometti, et al…” no world honour can be too great for this genius.

Published in Art India, Vol 5, Issue 4, Quarter 4, 2000
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