CHAT Akbar Padamsee narrates instances from his many decades-long creative journey
Amaster artist and raconteur, Akbar Padamsee has been essentially engaged with ‘form’ and ‘space’. Not even form, the artist clarifies; he is singularly interested in spaces. “I am more interested in spaces. People look at my drawings and say ‘It is very nice’. But do they look at space? No, they don’t. I tell them to look at space. Faces are just an emergence from those spaces,” says Akbar Padamsee, an important figure in the world of modern Indian art.
The 85-year-old artist has exhibited his works at the fifth edition of India Art Fair (on till February 3 in New Delhi). The great modernist travels back and forth in time to narrate riveting stories from an eventful career.
On being called a “conservative” and a “recluse”
Because I didn’t go to parties or art openings. When you are not seen, people call you a recluse. There was a whole new movement of abstract art, but I stayed representational. So people say he is still in the old way of painting.
I was still in art school when the group was formed. When the diploma results came out Raza (S.H. Raza) came to the school to see if we had passed. All of us had passed. And then he asked ‘What do you plan to do now? I am going to Paris in three months. Come with me.’ I decided to go along. Palsikar (S.B. Palsikar), who was the dean of the school then said, ‘You haven’t seen India properly and you are going to Paris. First see India.’ I had three months’ time, so I bought plane tickets to Madurai and went to the Meenakshi temple. I saw some marvellous art there.
Painting for art
When I came into art, I knew it had existed thousands of years before I became part of it. So my dialogue is with the thousands of years of art. I like and appreciate so many 14th Century painters. I can’t paint like them but I appreciate them. And I know the science of painting; if I don’t add something then I am no good. There was a wonderful German painter called Paul Klee, and he had written a very good book Thinking Eye . When I went to Paris, I bought that book even though it was in German. I thought I would at least be able to see the reproductions. I saw them and understood everything he was trying to say.
Meta-scapes and elements
Dr. Godbole introduced me to Kalidas’ Abhijanasakuntalam and its introductory verse says ‘ye dve kal vighattah’ (sun and moon are the controllers of time) and ‘sarva beej prakriti’ (water is the source of all seeds). Then he goes to fire. I thought if I were to paint, how would I paint it because I have to paint the sun and the moon, water, fire… I used forms, and put the sun and the moon together. People asked how these two could be together, and I would say ‘Please read Kalidas’. He became my authority, and they were like meta-scapes, metaphorical landscapes. I fell in love with Sanskrit and continued learning it for 15 years.
In this exhibition, I have done only heads, but no head will resemble another. It is like nature where except twins no two faces look same. When artists repeat themselves it means they aren’t observing. I go on drawing the lines and I call it grid and it from this grid a face emerges.
The first time I painted a nude was when I was 15. I was still in high school and during the recess I would see my art teacher paint. Seeing my curiosity he asked me to come to his studio and once he had a nude model. My nudes don’t titillate. I like the way light falls on them.