From Contextual Sculpture to the Conceptual: Indian artist Krishna Reddy – interview

Krishna Reddy’s solo show at Kolkata’s Experimenter travels across the Master’s research in sculpture and printmaking highlighting the shared vivid interest in material, time and body.

Krishna Reddy_Milan-Marino Marini studio in the fifties_terracotta_22in x 17in_Ed 1 of 5+AP_2016

Krishna Reddy_Milan-Marino Marini studio in the fifties_terracotta_22in x 17in_Ed 1 of 5+AP_2016

The exhibition Editionmaker: Contextual Sculpture to the Conceptual on the work of Krishna Reddy opened on May 20th at the Gallery Experimenter in Kolkata and remains on view until July 16th. A retrospective of sorts that punctuates the artist’s practice of printmaking through the skillful application of a sculptor’s hand takes us on a biographical journey of an artist whose multi-faceted and prolific practice elicits a sense of wonder while also reflecting a sense of humility.  The exhibition features studio photographs of Reddy’s early sculptures executed in the 1950s & 60s alongside a number of tightly composed watercolour drawings from the 1960s that dwell on various aspects of nature. A series of viscosity prints based on his daughter Aparna’s (fondly called Apu) imaginative mind and the emotional trauma of her adoption from the 1970s is followed by the clown series of 1980s inspired by a visit to the circus, but one that led Reddy to look at the clownish behavior of the world- the melancholic and the sad with a touch of irony. The exhibition also includes the print Demonstrators, executed in response to the student protests in Paris in 1968 as well as a few others from the Sun Worshiper series of the early 2000s.

Priyanka & Prateek Raja of Experimenter Gallery share with Art Radar how the exhibition was conceived and why they thought it was important to show Reddy’s work.

We personally have been interested in Krishna’s work for years and have been avid admirers and have always looked at his practice with awe and inspiration. Clearly, we were interested because we felt a connect with his work, which was miles ahead of its time and even today, the philosophical and conceptual frameworks of his work is extremely contextual and relevant to us as they have been through time. We also felt that his astounding practice had been appreciated but needed to be seen by a wider and more engaged audience and needed to be understood to the fullest extent of its impact on generations of artists and hence decided to show him solo at the gallery. When we knew that we wanted to show his work at Experimenter, we spoke with friends in the art world who know of his work and Sumesh Sharma at Clark House Initiative had curated an exhibition of his a couple of years ago with Anand Nikam of JJ school and Zasha Colah, also of Clark House Initiative. He was instrumental in putting the crucial aspects of the exhibition together and so was Judith Reddy, Krishna’s wife who’s advice was crucial in enabling the exhibition to take place.

With over seven decades of work, Art Radar asks the Master Printmaker what makes his art journey memorable and what else is left to come.

On Times and influences:

1.    Teaching, learning and growing your own art practice have gone hand in hand throughout your career.  From teaching at the College of Fine Art, Chennai (1947-49) to your co-directorship at Atelier 17, Paris (1964-1976) and to your current directorship at The Department of Graphics & Printmaking, NYU, what were your reasons to teach alongside your practice. My purpose in teaching was to open up the students and artists towards a deeper understanding. When we try to promote ourselves, we wind up making sensational art. With political awareness our art will become more meaningful and more human. Aside from my desire to teach, I accepted the position of Director of Printmaking at NYU also out of monetary necessity - living in New York is an expensive experience!

2.     The medium of print has often been ignored and relegated as craft, more so in India than internationally. What is your advice to young printmakers today? And does your decision to teach in some way, reflect the need to promote and grow the scope of the print medium. Printmaking has always been relegated as a secondary art form, not only in India but also in Europe and the U.S. I paid much attention to that. Handling materials is one of the great pleasures of printmaking. I wanted to find out all about the materials that went into printmaking – the felts, the paper, inks, zinc and copper plates, acids and so on. One has to dig into materials in order to discover the image.

3.     The 1940s were a decade of much change and turmoil that saw the Bengal Famine and the Independence movement in India, as well as the end of the World War. The period that followed was one marked by a heightened sense of humanism and a need to correct the faults of the past. Can you share some of the experiences that shaped your thinking from those early years.  I was very interested in making art since a very young age. I had the opportunity to grow up with Krishnamurthi at his school in Rishi Valley. As a young boy of eight or nine, I was involved in politics – fighting for the country’s freedom and independence. The British cut off food supplies and people starved. Millions died all over Bengal. In Calcutta, a lot of the artists served as volunteers, carrying the dead bodies. That was part of life and I think the significance of living is more than what we call art.

On Forms & Technique:

4.     It has been said that you treat the plate as a sculpted surface, and intaglio printing as a three-dimensional process. Can you share with us how studying sculpture at Slade and working closely with Modernist sculptors like Henry Moore, Constantin Brâncuși and Marino Marini for instance, during the 1950s influenced the your work. In London, I worked with Henry Moore, who was Visiting Professor at the Slade School of Art. His conceptions were very structured, very intelligent. In Paris I would visit Brancusi practically every Sunday. I would often meet Giacometti in a café very often. The Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine was my sculpture teacher who was also a profound philosopher. Learning from them was extraordinary. They were not the usual teachers but were living, experimenting, and working artists.  Starting in the early fifties I worked on a series of prints, which were built up as I used burins and scrapers and they became like sculptures. The way I worked the plate was to dig and gouge the metal. I used mostly hand tools but later on I also began to use machine tools. I like to call myself a printmaker but sculpture is my love. That is where I get all of my inspiration.

5.     Conceptually, all the forms in your work pulsate with energy. The structural and biomorphic details of the natural world, the fantasies of a child’s imagination, the idiosyncrasies of the ‘clownish’ world we inhabit, all speak of a deeper, almost spiritual understanding of existence. Please do share with us your perception of the world and the choice of forms you choose to represent.  For instance, I see the human figure standing. A human being is extraordinary when you begin to comprehend the human figure – all the details of the particular person you are drawing. I ended up by slowly drawing a vertical straight line, which represents the figure. It is a life force with a linear structure. From that one particular figure until now I must have made several thousand drawings. The very process of working an image is constantly one of discovery. Continuing to draw a human figureuntil at last I arrived at a simple straight line on my paper and that was the experience I went through. For me that straight line meant a life forceand a life rhythm.

6.    Titled an innovator and experimenter, how did viscosity printing come about and why has it been your choice of medium since? Viscosity printing came about by experimentation by many artists who worked at Atelier 17 in Paris. I tried wandering deep into materials to learn more about them. I felt the techniques presented to us then were frozen entities and I was determined to not be enslaved by techniques. We have to learn beyond the nature and behavior oftechniques in order to work with them. 

7.     What else is left to come? Not much I am afraid. I am ninety years old. I still try to draw when I can.