Enter the matrix

Staying true: Akbar Padamsee and Priyasri Patodia Lunkad; ( right ) Padamsee ‘s untitled watercolours, 2014.  

In a career spanning over six decades, Akbar Padamsee, considered one of the doyens of modern art in India, has dabbled with various mediums such as canvas, photography, films and computer graphics. However, one thing that has remained constant over the years is his quest to learn yet remain fiercely individualistic. These qualities led to the creation of the schema series – an algebraic grid made of fine lines that create an image – which is now being showcased at Priyasri Art Gallery as part of the artist’s new exhibition. Titled Where the Lines Fall, it showcases this series along with 110 monochrome works in oils, watercolour and lithography ranging from 1992-2017. With their seemingly delicate lines, these art works may appear fragile but in fact they are like a deep, dynamic maze.

A book, which shares the same name as the exhibition, was launched at the opening of the art show earlier this month. Featuring contributions from art critic, cultural theorist and independent curator Nancy Adajania along with gallerist Priyasri Patodia, the book chronicles Padamsee’s journey as an artist and the evolution of the works on display.

Mathematician at work

Patodia, who has known Padamsee for over a decade, has often visited the latter at his Prabhadevi studio and seen the maestro at work. Fascinated with his way of creating schema, she says, “He calculates the space he paints on regardless of the medium whether it’s a paper or canvas or even a plate almost like a mathematician. He draws these grid lines in charcoal or crayon, sometimes brush and as the work progresses the images emerge and those lines get diluted. These dark, noir lines are so powerful and effective.”

Enthused after hosting his monochrome exhibition in Ahmedabad in 2010, Patodia decided to display his black and white works this time too. “Noir truly exposes the artist’s matrix of the mind on the object he works on, more than any coloured works. The monochrome exhibitions developed from a fascination to study the archaeology of his mind as well as construction of his lines and dots,” she adds. The gallerist was keen to launch the book after the 89-year-old Padamsee enthralled her with stories of various incidents in his life which led to his body of work. It became compulsive for Patodia to share Padamsee’s evolution as an artist and contextualise his journey in the book through his experiences.

She says, “Padamsee is interested in the matrix of every medium he encounters. Be it his love for study of Sanskrit where the meaning is hidden in the word itself, or a piece of oil-based greasy half broken pastel given to him by an associate, or the charcoal collected from the havan [prayer ritual] of his new house of which he made drawings that sold in an auction for million.”

Artist speak

Padamsee was interested in art since an early age. He would often draw on the pages of his businessman father’s account books and enjoyed watching his drawing teacher at school paint. Later, he joined the J.J. School of Art and became closely associated with S.H. Raza, who along with FN Souza and MF Husain, had formed the Mumbai Progressive Group in 1948. A trip to France with Raza helped Padamsee showcase his works along with the master painter in 1952.

Since then, the modernist has treaded new grounds consistently. Explaining his schema series, he says, “I work with mathematical grids and points on the canvas which I connect in certain ways. That’s why the placement of the figure on the paper or canvas is very significant and individualistic. It’s like starting from abstraction towards recognisable images.”

Having worked with painting, photography and sculpture, each of these mediums has lead into the other and influenced his overall personality. While sculpting helped Padamsee to focus better and use his fingers dexterously, through photography he learnt how light could transform a human body and this tip comes in handy even today when he is painting a nude. As he’s discovered each medium has its own demands, “I have worked with wood and clay, where the clay is transformed very often into bronze. What you are experiencing in terms of emotions manifests itself through drawings, so you can’t cheat through that medium,” he says.

Quiz him about how he has managed to stay relevant even today despite working for over six decades and he responds, “I’m true to myself and I believe people who are true to themselves remain relevant.”

Where The Lines Fall is ongoing at Priyasri Art Gallery, until November 25

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 12:15:51 PM |

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