The clown is not one with a red nose, miming and laughing. He is instead the lone protagonist that artist Krishna Reddy spotted in the crowd when he took his daughter Apu to the circus in the US. Pondering over the melancholy beneath the humour in his studio, he found himself etching the clown on the metal plate, giving birth to one of his most celebrated series. “I saw a man who had been alienated from being a clown, yet is forced into performing. After a while, I enlarged this image in my mind, and I saw that one could relate this to the human being trying to live a creative existence,” recalls the 91-year-old New York-based artist. Depicted in numerous poses and hues, at “The Workshop Model: Krishna Reddy Retrospective”, the clown is the central figure in the maze of the pink prism.
Organised in collaboration with Mumbai-based Clark House, the travelling exhibition has archival photographs and works from the time Reddy left Shantiniketan, where he studied under Nandalal Bose, to his stint in Paris, and till the late ‘90s. He had received wide acclaim as a printmaker in the US and Europe by then. “The exhibition has 150 works from his collection, some drawings and old prints that might not have been exhibited in India before,” says co-curator Anant Nikam. One of the students invited by Reddy to experiment on the Heidelberg press during his workshop at the JJ School of Art (1984), Nikam now heads the school’s printmaking department. He has put his own works from the memorial workshop in the current exhibition, alongside Lalitha Lajmi, Prabhakar Kolte and Waman Chincholkai, who were also students of Reddy at the workshop. “He was an excellent printmaker, I too selected my specialisation after that,” says Nikam.
Raised in the rural landscape of Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, for Reddy it was an eventful journey to the Big Apple. The globe trotter who assisted Henry Moore in England in the ‘50s was to train under Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine in Paris soon after. At the Atelier 17 — an international hub for artists in Paris — he assisted Joan Miro in experimenting with multi-coloured etchings; and finally found home in New York, where he moved with family in 1976.
The teenager, who copied mythological paintings of south Indian gods and goddesses with precision, would go on to print his sheets of paper with an explosion of colours and textures in one shot from a single plate. His prints were complex in colours but the subjects remained rooted — there was a whirlpool of nature and social concerns. When the Algerian war for independence was at its crescendo in the ‘60s, Reddy too was a victim of racial slurs, and interrogated by the police in Paris. He protested, not physically, but through printed posters.
One such is Demonstrators (1968), where skeletal frames are crammed together, elemental, fragile and gory. This poignant work features in the exhibition, alongside the compelling Violence and Sorrow: Persian Gulf 1991 — Reddy’s contribution to The Hope and Optimism portfolio, initiated by Magdalen College Oxford in 1990. It is typical Reddy — sombre and daunting. There is Apu too, as the crawling child, in a minimalist print.
What Nandlal bose taught him
“At Shantiniketan, the director of the art department was Nandalal Bose — we called him ‘Master Moshai’. One day, he was walking by and stopped to watch me draw. I was drawing near a tree, drawing a flower on one side on its branches. He asked, “How do you feel?”, and I said, “Oh well, I am drawing the tree, drawing its flowers, trying to learn the way the petals part in the centre, and the way they are arranged.” He said, “Maybe the tree is refusing you. Maybe after a few days if you persist it will say, ‘Oh, good, come along with me.’ If you are willing it may accept you in its shade and might even let you walk in.” Saying this, he walked away. I was only indulging in the tree’s superficial aspects. He pointed me toward the very depths of nature… to fully participate in the experience — to learn what the tree is, to go inward, layer after layer. My whole system was electrified.”
The Printmaker’s Printmaker
Considered a master in intaglio printmaking, Krishna Reddy is known for his geometrical abstraction of nature. His discovery of colour viscosity in this medium translated into multiple colours on a single plate. Each of his print appears as individual multicoloured piece. He was among the few printmakers of the ‘50s who saw potential in the medium and established it as an art form.