University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Art Department

The Prints of Krishna Reddy

Krishna Reddy makes unusually stringent demands on viewers of his work. He asks of us a most difficult task: to approach his art without the very things that brings art to many, if not most, of the art public. As he has said and written, ”The modern artist is miserably dependent on the dealer, the curator, the critic, and the media of publicity. He puts himself on a track to satisfy the passing fashions of the commercial world, where improvisation and interplay are mistaken for creativity. He designs his works of art to satisfy the tastes, desires, and needs of the market. But true creativity cannot exist where there is motive, ambition, and competitiveness.” Think how we approach an exhibition, a blockbuster museum show, a biennial or a triennial. We must wade through the PR, the establishment parameters, the sound bites, the salesmanship and jockeying for media position. There is no easy escape from the gallery world or even the very influential and ubiquitous academic art world. Are we up to the task? Are we able to overcome the fashionable avarice of a covetous urbane culture and permit ourselves to see, really see, the art we came to experience? Yet this is exactly what Krishna Reddy asks of us, because this is what, as an artist and human being, he asks of himself.

A close examination of Reddy’s prints is revealing in its sense of the infinite, a veritable microcosm of timelessness, the evolving universe, colors that are unusually subtle, textures suggesting they are of the Paleolithic Age, even his actual etched plates have the appearance of artifacts from prehistoric antiquities. Somehow, his images connote contemporary thought and means yet suggest no overt influences. In short, Krishna Reddy is a perfect example of his teaching. To paraphrase his own words, the artist is an explorer engaged and experimenting in the ecstasy of freedom. He wishes for the viewers of his prints to share in what he has discovered, to share in his sense of wonderment. Further, and most important, his work reflects his deeply rooted beliefs that, in his words, “Our senses bring knowledge that leads to memory and then to ideas and ideals, that begin a life of their own. Thought is the activity of knowledge, of memory, of ideas, conclusions and beliefs forming our consciousness.”

Of the many contemporary artists I have known, Krishna Reddy best embodies this bridge to understanding, free of the “art as commodity” syndrome that so infects both the art world and the educational system of arts in higher education. His voice is clear, unfettered and stated with a conviction that could have its source in the original voice from the Upanishads or from Mount Olympus. He connects with some of the major thinkers and discoverers of our era. The eminent neurologist, Oliver Sacks, M.D., in his relatively recent book, The River of Consciousness, explores this sense of memory and he also references William James’ introduction of the term stream of consciousness. In addition, Sacks makes mention of Jorge Luis Borges’s comment, “Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that carries me away, but I am the river... ” And when Krishna Reddy talks about “Our senses bring knowledge that leads to memory…” I believe he is voicing the same Sacks/James/Borgesian sensibility and relating it directly to his visual explorations and discoveries.

While Alain Robbe-Grillet’s film Last Year at Marienbad dates from the early 1960s, it is the closest work of art in any medium which I believe has a deeply rooted philosophical connection with the art of Krishna Reddy. I quote now from Kenneth J. Gergen’s book The Saturated Self. “In his film Last Year at Marienbad, for example, there is virtually no plot line, events do not move through time in an orderly sequence. Rather, the viewer is presented with images of the preceding year, which might have been prior, but might also be visions of time future, or the present… the viewer is lost in a vertigo of timelessness. For, as Robbe-Grillet writes, all we have is our consciousness of time present. Thus, our sense of past and future must necessarily be constructions of present consciousness. Both are producible, controllable fictions of the moment – any moment. To believe that time proceeds in a smooth, linear sequence is to believe in a ficticious form, not in our actual experience.”

As noted, when Krishna Reddy writes that “Thought is the activity of knowledge, of memory, of ideas, conclusions and beliefs, forming our consciousness, ”he is speaking the same language as Robbe-Grillet and, in my view, this is precisely what he demands of the viewers of his prints – a clear, free and unconstrained visual and intellectual experience, in order to evoke his intent: the timelessness of wonderment.

Leonard Lehrer
Dean, School of Fine and Performing Arts
Columbia College, Chicago

Return to the Retrospective Exhibition, Three Master Printmakers: Lee Chesney, Krishna Reddy, and Ken Kerslake.