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Artist Profile1
Akbar Padamsee's enriching artistic journey
Considered one of the pioneers of Modern Indian Art or Indian Modern painting idiom, Akbar Padamsee is also known as a philosopher-thinker, who has deeply introspected on the relationship between color and form. The artist has constantly challenged prevalent Asian, Western, and even Indian aesthetic theories. His work invariably exhibits dual pulls of spirit and matter that he perceives as a ‘bed of tensions’ originating from the formal, the linear, the tonal, and the chromatic upon which the form surfaces or stays in a fluid potential state.

Born in 1928 in Mumbai, the master completed his graduation from the Sir JJ School of Art in early 1950s, and later traveled to Paris where he was fascinated by French Modernism. His work from this period exuded stylistic influences of some great names like Georges Rouault, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Galerie Pacitti in Paris built a special relationship with the artist and its owner acquired many of his early paintings. He worked with several other galleries, including St-Placide, Creuze, and Ventadour.

Ram Kumar, SH Raza, Laxman Pai and Akbar Padamsee were all in Paris at that point of time. This was a very formative and crucial period for all these doyens. Tied to the prevailing international avant-garde it was an opportunity for them to introduce their own India-centric influences to the western viewers but more importantly, to give a definite direction to Indian Modern painting. Of course, the phase was not without its obstacles for the artists trying to establish their presence and identity in the broader art scene.

Akbar Padamsee's apparent fascination and his self-confessed obsession with the intriguing human form - the female nude, in particular, were evidenced in the early and more recent solitary figures he depicted. They were unique in as much as they didn’t emphasize eroticism as much as they built a sense of detachment and loneliness. During the 1960s, he opted to experiment with various techniques and textures in his painting, using luminescent colors with vibrant and dramatic brushstrokes. The talented artist traveled to New York courtesy the J.D. Rockefeller foundation (Rockefeller IIIrd Fund, Fellowship) in 1965. He was an artist-in-residence at Stout State University, Wisconsin and received the prestigious Nehru Fellowship in 1967. In his quest to study and create both cinema and art, he founded a workshop ‘View’.

Among his selected solo exhibitions are 'Body Parts', The Loft, Mumbai (2010); a show at Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai (2010); ‘Sensitive Surfaces’, Galerie Helene Lamarque, Paris (2008); ‘Metascape to Humanscape’, Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto (2007), New York (2006); ‘Photographs’ (2004-06), The Guild, Mumbai; and ‘Retrospective of Watercolors’, Pundole, Mumbai (2004) among others. His recent major group shows include 'The Progressives & Associates', Grosvenor Gallery, London; 'Black and White', Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai; 'From Miniature to Modern', Rob Dean Art, London; 'Black is Beautiful', India Fine Art, Mumbai; 'Masters of Maharashtra', LKA, Delhi at Piramal Gallery, Mumbai (all in 2010); 'Bharat Ratna!', Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 'Indian Art After Independence:, Emile Lowe Gallery, Hempstead; 'Sacred & Secular', India Fine Art; 'Think Small', Art Alive, Delhi; 'Progressive to Altermodern', Grosvenor, London (all in 2009).

The veteran artist’s recent participations include 'Contemporary Printmaking in India', courtesy Priyasri Art Gallery, and 'Manifestations IV', Delhi Art Gallery. His work has been shown at many renowned museums like the Centre National des Arts Plastiques in France (1985) as well as the Biennials - Venice (1953, 1955), Tokyo (1959), and Sao Paulo (1959). He has won the Lalit Kala Ratna from LKA, Delhi (2004), and Kalidas Samman by the MP government in 1997-98.

The multi-faceted artist’s dynamic oeuvre incorporates different mediums, such as drawing and photography. He has worked on heads, nudes, abstracts and computer graphics. Driven by his keenness to experiment, he started using computers. To begin with, he merely scanned his paintings or tried to paint with the mouse, exploring geometrical forms based on certain mathematical equations fed into the machine. His intention was to explore the new terrain of technology. Recounting the experience, he has stated: “When I use the computer I am not drawing the image, but I am employing other artistic principles. Skill is important but being an artist is not just about having technical virtuosity.”

On the other hand, his photos of nudes - originally studies – akin to anatomical explorations for his paintings, prompted him to further explore this challenging medium. In them, movements, gestures and points of view gave the composition immense interiority and tension, as he played with shadows, reflection and transparency. The veteran recently revisited the theme of Metascapes he first dealt with in the eighties. Revealing the core thought, the octogenarian artist stated, “The first step of a painting is space. If all space is equal it gets boring. To make it dynamic some spaces are projected as vast, (whereas) some small. Then comes color! If I put red in one corner and green diagonally opposite, the eye will travel to the green, but there should be no interruption in its trajectory; unless I want it to zig-zag. To make a work mobile we use the trajectory principle of color. All art is abstract. Even when you do a nude if the quality of abstraction is not there, it's not art.”

In his oeuvre, at once savant and austere, theoretical preoccupations tend to take a human form. We discover an intellectual and artistic exploration, as well as a quest - both transcendental and physical – in nature. The forms in his deft drawings are imparted with substance by lines whose points of origin appear to burst out in a haphazard manner. The subject - a face or a body - serves as a pretext largely submerged by the initial randomness to direct the relationship between points, lines and forms. Summing up his philosophy as an artist, he quips: “The relationship between inside and outside, between silence and sound makes a work of art; there should be no audience. Just artist and (his) painting…"