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Jan 09 2020

Obituary: Akbar Padamsee (1928–2020)

by Lauren Long

AKBAR PADAMSEE passed away on January 6. Courtesy the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, Mumbai.

Pioneering Indian modernist Akbar Padamsee passed away on the evening of January 6 in Coimbatore, aged 91. A prolific artist, he is most well-known for his unconventional use of color and space in his radical paintings, although his practice spanned a multitude of other media, including photography, sculpture, prints, film, and computer graphics. 

Born in Mumbai in 1928, Padamsee’s early interest in art led him to earn a diploma in painting at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art. In 1954, following several years away in Paris where he lived and worked, and was exposed to European modernism and tribal African art, both of which influenced his art, he returned to India and held his first solo exhibition at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery. The painting show was criticized for its vivid portrayals of a nude couple in intimate embrace, Lovers I and Lovers II (both 1952). The canvases were removed by the police and the artist was charged with obscenity. In 1959, he began to paint in shades of gray, developing his own artistic language with a subdued palette in an effort to highlight the fundamental forms of objects and spaces.

While not an official member of India’s influential Progressive Artists’ Group, which was formed after the partition of India and Pakistan with the aim to achieve “absolute freedom for contents and technique,” Padamsee was close with the members, including founders SH Raza and FN Souza, with whom he held his first exhibitions in France. Padamsee’s own practice was introspective and insightful, and he remained experimental throughout his career. The artist once commented in an interview with Christie’s auction house: “Art for me is to express the invisible. No morality, no values, no hierarchy can enter its field.” His oeuvre focused largely on portraits and mirror images. One of his most distinctive series, Metascapes (1972– ) comprises juxtaposed colors and textures alluding to landscapes. The body of paintings transcends boundaries between abstraction and representation, revealing a state of fluidity. 

Over his decades-long career, Padamsee participated in numerous festivals, including the Venice Biennale (1953, 1955, and 1963). He staged presentations at institutions such as New York’s Rubin Museum of Art; London’s Royal Academy of Art; Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal; Centre for International Modern Art, Kolkata; and the Mohile Parikh Centre for Visual Arts, Mumbai. His many awards include the Lalit Kala Akademi Ratna (1962), the highest honor for artists conferred by the Indian government;  the JD Rockefeller III Fund Fellowship (1965); the Jawaharlal Nehru fellowship (1969); the Kalidas Samman, granted by the Madhya Pradesh government (1997); the Bank of India Excellence Award (1998); and the prestigious Padma Bhushan award for Indian civilians (2010).

Lauren Long is ArtAsiaPacific’s news and web editor.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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