Akbar Padamsee was born in Mumbai in 1928. Padamsee was still a student at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai at the time when the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) announced itself in 1947. After completing his art studies in 1951 in Mumbai, Padamsee married a Parisian doctor, Solange, and relocated to live and work in Paris where his daughter Raisa was born. In 1952, Andre Breton awarded him a prize on behalf of the Journale d’Art. Returning to mount his very first solo show atJehangir Art Gallery, in Mumbai in 1954, Akbar became the centre of a controversy when his painting Lovers that was forcibly removed from the show on charges of obscenity. Both E. Alkazi and his wife Roshen, among several other young artists were present at this historic occassion, and along with Padamsee they protested for the charges to be withdrawn. The charges were eventually withdrawn.
The Alkazis’ association with Akbar has been a long and close one,so it came as no surprise that Art Heritage held a retrospective of Padamsee’s work soon after its inception in New Delhi in 1980. Solo shows in 1988, 1992 and 2013 followed.
Padamsee has spent a lifetime sensing and probing the subtleties of the human existence. Rooted in European Modernism, he has remained faithful to the significance and expressiveness of the human body, which he feels is capable of transcending its carnality and reaching a pure, even spiritual state as is seen in his Prophets, Heads, Couples and Nudes. Padamsee resists easy categorization, remaining fiercely experimental and individualistic. Renouncing the rich colour palette of his early years, between 1959-1960 he chose to paint only in greys, creating some of his most monumental landscape works that are recognized for their poetic grace.
Shifting to purely abstract landscapes in the 1970s Padamsee was inspired by the opening stanzas of Kalidasa’s Abhigyanshakuntalam where the poet refers to the visible forms of the Lord…the Sun and Moon as the controllers of Time, Water as the origin of Life, Fire as the link between Man and God, Earth as the source of all seed. This gave Padamsee the idea that as an artist he could use these elements to create reality without describing it in recognizable images. This was a turning point as Padamsee’s journey thereafter has mainly consisted of creating eerie, uncanny landscapes that he entitles Metascapes. Here we see a play with electrifying colours, giving a hallucinatory, unearthly light in the creation of formless landscapes that pulsate and heave through his use of pure volume and colour.
A decade or so ago, Padamsee entered the world of computer graphics. The warm, painterly physicality of his landscapes was replaced by the cool geometry and machine-simulated hues of the electronic medium. Taking full advantage of the vast range available through the computer, its gradations, and tonalities of light and shadow, Padamsee submitted to their almost inhuman perfection, smoothness and elegance of surface mutations. Other experiments with photography and digital printmaking continued through the late 1990s.
Prizes:Gold Medal, Lalit Kala Akademi 1962; Fellowship from the J.D. Rockefeller Foundation, 1965; Artist-in-Residence, Stout State University, Wisconsin; Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship. Padamsee uses funds for an inter-art Vision Exchange Workshop (VIEW), where artists and filmmakers can freely experiment across various disciplines and practices, 1969-71.
Exhibitions abroad: Venice Biennale, 1953, 1955; Sao Paulo, Tokyo, 1959; Solo exhibition, Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, 1967; MOMA, Oxford 1981; Royal Academy of Arts, London 1982 and National des Arts Plastiques, Paris, 1985.
Awards/Honours: Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1997; Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar, 2004; Dayawati Modi Award, 2007; Roopdhar Award, Bombay Art Society, 2008; Kailash Lalit Kala Award, 2010;Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 2010.