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Artist Profile2
Tracing life and career of a veteran artist-philosopher
It is not possible to categorize or confine Akbar Padamsee to a specific category or period; the restless artist occupies a very niche experimental space of his own. Considered one of the pioneers of Modern Indian Art or Indian Modern painting idiom, he has constantly challenged prevalent 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 chromatic upon which the form surfaces or stays in a fluid potential state.

Born in 1928, he joined Sir J.J. School of Art just at the time when the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) was formed. He traveled to New York after receiving J.D. Rockefeller IIIrd Fund, Fellowship in 1965; was an artist-in-residence at Stout State University, Wisconsin, and also received the prestigious Nehru Fellowship. In his quest to study and create both cinema and art, he founded ‘View’ (Vision Exchange Workshop). He once reminisced that he was asked by SH Raza to accompany him to Paris during his formative years as an artist where he sent his painting in a competition. He was to share the Trix de Noel prize with Jean Carzou, a famous artist from France, who was unwilling to share it with a newcomer. Writer-poet Andre Breton, a judge there, remarked: 'Though he might be 22, the country that he comes from has a thousands of years’ old tradition."

The remarks remained etched in Padamsee’s mind, subsequently generating deep interest on his part in Indian culture and philosophy. Since the 1970s, his oeuvre has been alternating between luminous metascapes, considered his signature works, and the human figure he imbues with an arresting presence. His 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. A book featuring his photographs of nudes will be released later this year.

At 85, he is showcasing his new creations, the oil on canvas works - created over the last couple of years for a new solo, entitled ‘Past Forward’ at Priyasri Art Gallery in Mumbai. While analyzing and savoring Padamsee’s magisterial art practice spread over six decades, one tries to retrace the mysterious, mystical processes of renewal, which continue to inspire and propel a glorious artistic quest. His oeuvre primarily revolves around a meticulous revisiting of three distinct genres: the landscape, the nude and the head. It involves a dynamic, recursive, additive process, according to Nancy Adajania. Revealing how he sees the concept of repetition in relation to his practice, the celebrated artist mentions to her that it’s change of the kind, which doesn’t abolish all that had gone before.

Repetition is a complex gesture, in any case, the writer explains to elaborate on the artist’s ongoing series of heads that never fails to surprise us since each of them comes across as unique, precipitating convergence of the past and the future in spite the family resemblance, which unites them. Adajania states: “While they share a distinct genealogical link with Old Master paintings and drawings, they also point forward to a post-apocalyptic future of the kind spelled out by science fiction. These heads are haunted by the aura of the icon. At a broader level, Padamsee’s practice may well be built on the awareness of dominant polarities, albeit not devoted to entrenching them. Instead, it looks to celebrate the shimmering intersections, synergies and mirrored doublings-redoublings generated when opposite poles step out of themselves, cease to be static points in a confrontation, and engage with one another, the writer concludes.

Among his recent significant solo shows are 'A Visual Metaphor', Giclee Prints on Canvas at India Fine Art, Mumbai (2013); 'Lithographs and Photographs', Art Heritage, Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi (2013); 'The Body Unbound', Rubin Museum of Art, New York (2011-12); and ‘Sensitive Surfaces’, Galerie Helene Lamarque, Paris (2008). His work has been shown at many renowned museums and institutions like the Foundation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques in France (1985) and Royal Academy of Art, London (1982) as well as several prestigious 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, apart from Padma Bhushan, the country’s prestigious civilian honor in 2010.

The veteran artist-philosopher has constantly challenged prevalent 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 chromatic upon which the form surfaces or stays in a fluid potential state. 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…"