Krishna's prints captivate imagination

Updated on Mar 15, 2003 04:03 PM IST

Aesthetics for Krishna Reddy have always gone with deep spiritual search between the mind and the universe.

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PTI | BySuman Tarafdar

Krishna’s Cosmos
The Creativity of an Artist, Sculptor and Teacher

Ratnottama Sengupta
Mapin Publishing
Pages: 132
Price: Not stated

"I understood that one should be a thinker to be a true artist. That art is born out of one's deeper inner disposition". That is Krishna Reddy, artist, sculptor and a living legend whose innovations in printmaking have virtually changed the way colour printmaking is composed now.

This comprehensive book on the legend traces his remarkable journey and more importantly tries to fathom the roots from which Krishna draws his sustenance.

Aesthetics for Krishna have always gone with deep spiritual searches and his efforts to decipher and project the relationship between the mind and the universe. For him artmaking has always been an expression of lived experience and a learning process.

Today an artist in residence in 250 universities around the world, Krishna's long journey started small. Krishna was born in a small village near Chittoor in 1925, now in Andhra Pradesh. Fortunate to be associated with J Krishnamurti's Rishi Valley School at a young age, his artistic talent saw him reach Tagore's Santiniketan in the tumultuous years just before India's independence from the British yoke.

The book follows him through one of the most significant phases of his life as he interacts and imbibes from great figures like Nandalal Bose and compatriots like Ram Kinkar Baij, KG Subramanyam, Sankho Chaudhuri and Benode Bihari among others. It was here that Krishna learnt the most significant lesson in his life, "Artmaking is a living process, an organic phenomenon, a product of life itself," and Tagore came to epitomize the real teacher.

It then follows him through his years in Kalashetra, Madras, where he was in charge of developing the visual arts programme and then abroad. A brief sojourn in London was followed by a stint in Paris, which in many ways proved to be a revelation.

"Paris in 1950 was an eye opener for Krishna … Artists had flocked from Spain and Portugal, Belgium and Netherlands, Austria and Germany and Poland and Czechoslovakia. Individually they were products of their cultural roots… But they had one thing in common: They were all looking for new ways to express their freedom. These were profound minds that were involved in the art of inquiry and self-understanding. … They wanted to explore and learn."  

Life was not always easy and Krishna even had to sell prints in the tourist boutiques along the Seine quays. But as the book follows the seeker through the byways and cafes of the cultural potpourri of the artistic world, one almost has a sense of oneness with Krishna as he expands his frontiers. Traversing through Montparnasse, as one comes across names like Picasso, Miro, Giacometti and Brancusi and Braque and Leger, the disputes over issues of the day, the passion and the polemics, and we understand why Krishna realised that "in order to be a true artist, one has [sic] to be a thinker."

The rich, exciting influence of Atelier 17 and its invigorating cosmopolitan, cross cultural atmosphere is excellently brought out in the book. His years kept getting busier, especially after his shift to the US. He had started guiding and teaching fairly early and his fame as an educator kept getting more and more offers to teach from art lovers around the world.

Krishna's contribution to printmaking occupies a significant portion of the text, which follows him as he grows with his chosen art. "Krishna's experiments during the course of 50 years found ways to work in colour printmaking with maximum simplicity and directness, while increasing the expressiveness and intensity of his images." And he realizes that one cannot "separate the material from the conception."

"He is trying to build an image that will be seen. It is important in this process to feel the material, know the tools, work with them, be in sympathy with their problems. For, they are helping to build your image, through which you want to say something."

The book's narrative is helped by the fact that Sengupta has provided ample background to the times she writes about, whether it is search for roots among Indian artists or European and American art scenes in the backdrop of which Krishna worked. The milestones in his work are amply covered, and there is a separate chapter on Krishna as an educator – an aspect of his life that has helped spread his skill and vision to countless people across continents. There are many quotes from Krishna, his writings, which help us fathom the person a little better, as well as a section explaining his vision of art, of the universe and of the life and mind within, of the artistic inheritance that he had, both eastern and western, of his depiction of his vision, and how it is structured.

What helps even more is that a fairly large number of his works are depicted along with the text, though one still finds mention of prints or sculptures that are not visually depicted.

There are tributes from some of the biggest influences in his life, including Stanley William Hayter, who guided him through Atelier 17, Robert balckburn, Richard Bartholomew and Amitav Ghosh.

The book also provides a chronology of his life as well as numerous list including those for his shows and retrospectives, seminars, lectures, participation as jury and panel member, awards and honours, and collections where his work resides. There are also lists of his art works, reviews of his work, and a bibliography of writings, both by him and on him.

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