One of the pioneers of Indian modern art, Akbar Padamsee passed away at the age of 91.We remember his contributions to art.
“Art is always undergoing change. It is the artist’s prerogative to embrace change.”
— Akbar Padamsee
The gargantuan landscape of contemporary art that we observe in India owes its existence to a handful of pioneers who gave it birth, but it is saddening to see their existence slowly fade away. One such heart-breaking incident took place when the last surviving founder of the Progressive Artists’ Group died. On January 6, Akbar Padamsee breathed his last breath at the age of 91 lying on his bed at Isha Centre in Coimbatore.
Akbar Padamsee was born on April 12, 1928 into a traditional Khoja Muslim family in Mumbai. From a very early age, he was fascinated with paintings and used to copy drawings from The Illustrated Weekly. He studied at St. Xavier’s High School, Fort, where his interest in painting grew. He went on to enrol himself in the Sir J.J. School of Arts where, due to his exceptional skills, he was allowed to be admitted to the course directly in its third year. Meanwhile, he got affiliated with artists like S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza and slowly became an integral part of the Progressive Artists’ Group.
Padamsee’s true exploration of modern art began when he moved to Paris in 1951 with the aid of Souza who was offered a French Government scholarship. There he was introduced to the works of artists like Giotto, Masaccio and Rembrandt. He also met Paul Klee, the man whom he credits to have helped him understand how to use colours.
He soon drew the spotlight of this new and foreign city towards himself by winning an esteemed competition. He won the second prize in a competition held by Journal d’Arte and judged by André Breton who chose his Woman with Bird (1951) out of the numerous ones created by famous French artists.
Padamsee had a quasi-spiritual style of working with an in-depth understanding of colour combinations. His paintings showed a collaboration of cubism and expressionism, clad with a clever combination of sombre and bright colours. Some of his most celebrated artworks are Metascape series (1976), The Prophet (1953), Grey Series (late 1950s and early 1960s) and Mirror Images (early 2000s). His painting Reclining Nude was sold for US$ 1,426, 500 at Sotheby’s in New York.
He experimented and mastered various mediums like oil painting, plastic emulsion, watercolour, printmaking and computer graphics. He drew with the curiosity of discovering new mediums. His interest and proficiency extended in filmmaking, sculpting, photography, engraving, and lithography.
The rise of modern & contemporary art in India, is marked with many controversies. Padamsee has also seen many such controversies. His 1953 exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, soon after his return to India, had two paintings on display which caused quite a thunder. The Lovers l and Lovers ll displayed an intimate portrait of a nude couple. The city police ordered him to put down these paintings but Padamsee refused and in turn, was charged for obscenity and was arrested.
The case went on to the court, where with the testimony of M.F. Husain and Rudolf von Leyden, an art critic, he was released on the condition that the two paintings will be removed from the display.
Padamsee continued his work and has been prolific till his last breath. His illustrious career is marked by several decorations. He was awarded a Gold Medal by Lalit Kala Akademi in 1962 and the Kalidas Samman Award by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1997. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, in 2010.
Akbar Padamsee is survived by his wife Bhanumati Padamsee, and daughter Raisa Padamsee.
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