Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928)
- Akbar Padamsee
- Untitled (Reclining Nude)
- Signed and dated 'Padamsee 60' upper right
- Oil on canvas
"Grey is without prejudice. It does not discriminate between object and space. The object is space. The brush moves across them and from the will of the movement form is born."
- Akbar Padamsee
(B. Padamsee & A. Garimella, Akbar Padamsee: Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 186)
In 1959, after an eight year stay in Paris, Akbar Padamsee returned to India. His decision to become an artist instead of joining his flourishing family business had caused great consternation among his community. Akbar's future however, had been settled by the Aga Khan, the religious head of the Khoja community to which Akbar and his family belonged. The Aga Khan, a great patron of the arts himself, not only encouraged him to become an artist, but also encouraged him to travel Paris for further studies.
In Paris Akbar immersed himself in learning, absorbing various aspects of the art world around him and familiarizing himself with the great masterpieces at museums. Upon his return to Bombay, he was invited by renowned artist and filmmaker Bal Chhabda to have a solo exhibition at the newly minted Gallery 59, Bombay's first commercial gallery that had become a hotbed for artistic experimentation across disciplines. Akbar accepted the invitation and began to look for a place where he could live and work. He found a cottage in Juhu with an adjoining open space which had once been a court equipped with bright lights.
There, spreading huge canvases on the floor of the lighted court, working at night, he created a series of iconic paintings in black and white, which came to be known as his "Grey Period." Throughout his career, color and color orchestration were of central focus to Padamsee. Here he formulated a parallel paradigm for himself – creating shades of gray that mirrored a color spectrum, ranging from white- to blue- to green- to black-grays. Using this array of tones in his 'gray' palette he created this painting, a monumental composition depicting a slender reclining nude of inordinately long proportions. Her still form emanates the isolation and loneliness that are central to the human condition in Padamsee's works.
The exhibition at Gallery 59 opened to high acclaim. A leading art critic at The Times of India wrote, "There are but 12 oils on view, but so overpowering is their size – ranging from canvases 10 x 3 feet to one enormous composition about 17 x 6 feet – and so outstanding is their quality, that even the normally reticent observer will be deeply moved." Two of the large canvases went into the collections of artists – M F Husain, Krishen Khanna and Bal Chhabda. The third, Untitled (Reclining Nude), traveled to North America, where it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Montreal in 1960 and subsequently entered a US private collection where it has remained until now.
In explaining the architecture of this series of large paintings Padamsee says, "I don't paint forms, forms emerge from the dynamism of movement. As the brush strokes move across the canvas, as they hit the boundary of the picture space and bounce back, an energy field is created and it is this energy field which is the matrix of the image..."
"When I did the Grey series, I was pre-occupied with using singular brush strokes across the canvas without interruptions. This was possible because I was using only grey and did not need to stop. There was no distinction of hue between the background and figure except that at one point it would emerge..." (B. Padamsee & A. Garimella, Work in Language, Mumbai, pg 186). Akbar's exhibition of 'gray' paintings and the period 1959 – 60, marked a singular event even in his journey as an artist. He never returned to the monotone palette on this scale again, continuing his experiments with color and color fields, expressed in his 'Metascapes' of the following decades.
Saryu Doshi comments of this 'Grey' period – "Expressive and impressive, Akbar's exhibition of 1960 with its monumental works and austere palette marked a high point in his conception and its execution. It epitomized a supremely creative period representing the culmination of trends developed in his early phase, while simultaneously ushering in innovative ideas which effloresce and assume more concrete shape in his future works. Undoubtedly, the works in grey attest to the artist's mastery over his medium and his ability to manipulate his technique to conform to his will and vision." (Ibid., pg 191)