Colours of timelessness

The recently concluded Krishna Setty retrospective showcased the immense contribution the artist has made to the cultural landscape of Karnataka.
Last Updated : 05 February 2023, 00:31 IST
Last Updated : 05 February 2023, 00:31 IST

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Krishna Setty’s retrospective ‘The Realm of Manifestation’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru, offered a glimpse into his art practice of the last 50-plus years, which is an extension of the various roles he has played over the years. Ranging from art critic, writer, activist, administrator and organiser, Setty has carried out each of these roles in a manner that has contributed immensely to the art and cultural landscape of Karnataka. All of these activities have been an integral part of his creative output, whether in the form of text or visuals, and it is essential that this retrospective is perceived in its entirety.

A few years ago, as the Chairman and Administrator of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, he was instrumental in launching the First Print Biennale, and in initiating the relaunch of the journal, ‘Contemporary’, with the entire volume dedicated to printmaking. As an arts administrator, he has been committed to creating opportunities for young artists in various forms — to visit art fairs, and biennales, and in creating forums for interactions and to present their works. Initiatives such as ‘Dakahavisa’ and the ‘Krishna Setty Foundation’ among others have continued to contribute towards these causes, and have been active through the pandemic.

Another noteworthy initiative of his has been the ‘Drushya Kala Sahitya Parishad’, an organisation which was formed to promote art writing in Karnataka. Although short-lived, it was a forum for art critics working in the state, and which for a brief period, also brought out a magazine called ‘Chitraakshara’, with a focus on developing art literature.

Born in 1952 at Thirthahalli, in the Shimoga district of Karnataka, Krishna Setty studied Fine Arts at the University College of Fine Arts, Davangere. He undertook extensive research during 1981-82 in Graphics at Garhi Studios, New Delhi under the Lalit Kala Akademi’s scholarship. He followed this up with a Master’s degree in Literature from Mysore University and then a postgraduate diploma in Public Relations from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. His career has been equally varied, from working as a lecturer in Fine Arts to a stint in advertising, in conjunction with his art practice.

Power and control

In the retrospective, which was an in-house curated show, there were more than 300 works spread across two floors, with paintings, prints, sculptures and installations.

Clippings from newspapers where he wrote regularly as an art critic were also on display. As were books which he has written and edited. He was one of the foremost artists in the state to have presented an installation at Venkatappa Gallery in 1983-84. However, this was his maiden foray into sculptural installations, furthering his experimentations with material and media, while continuing to explore his primary themes.

At the entrance of the museum, a large boat with old chairs perched precariously on it gently floated on the waterbody. The dilapidated chairs, worn out and crumbling, was a comment on the politics of power, authority and control.

It also has a connotation with the paradox associated with the ship of Theseus — referring perhaps to the political system, the repackaging of ideas, ethics and beliefs, and critiques the appearance of change and its impact.

The doorway of the museum gallery had a drawing of the two-headed mythological God, Janus, on both sides of the door, which accentuated the bridging of the past and the future.

It hinted at the duality and became the portal to access the art and the artist. Setty’s formal study of literature, and interest in mythology, along with influences from various cultures are visible in these references — Roman, Greek and Indian mythology in multiple artworks.

The three-headed sculpture, the derelict post box, and the oft-seen fish skeletons were comments on the changing times, the dichotomy and the disquiet inherent in the social and political environment, and the redundancy of thought, values and objects.

Found objects were used to create assemblages, which were in contrast with the skillfully crafted ‘stone’ works that formed the other sculptures.

The drawings and paintings from the initial period are from his college days and are based on life study, and are academically oriented. Gradually, however, one can see influences of his political leanings, and topically relevant strident issues, which begin to appear in his works.

The works from his early day are figurative, with a pronounced surrealistic stream, which deepens with time, while the figurative elements reduce and there is a quasi-abstract language that predominates.

In general, the theme around a dystopian world still prevails, but it becomes more metaphorical and symbolic in nature, where the allusions are open to interpretation. Most works were untitled, inviting the viewer to engage and interpret in their own way, adding a currency or timelessness to the artworks.

Interestingly, a new series from the last two-three years displayed a noticeable shift towards pure abstraction with a focus on intense colours, textures and layers, and with the appearance of metallic gold and silver highlights.

This series, exhibited for the first time, in fact, ran parallel to the other works that he has been continuing with, in the last decade.

As a retrospective, a chronological overview and textual material would have added to the gravity and depth of the display.

Yet, the sheer volume of works and the meticulous display delighted and enhanced the experience of viewing.

Published 04 February 2023, 20:02 IST

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