‘Akbar Padamsee had influenced three generations of artists’
I met Akbar Padamsee within a few years of me moving to Bombay – it may have been 1975 or 1976. Among the first people I met was the artist and poet Gieve Patel. The art community was small and I was eventually introduced to Akbar.
He was, of course, an important artist in the post-Independence era, a man who laid the foundations of post-modern art in India. But I found him to be such a warm and generous person. At the time, the American collector Chester Herwitz would visit India as he and his wife, Davida, built one of the world’s largest collections of Indian modern art. Chester wasn’t buying any of Akbar’s work; he had other favourites. But Akbar made it a point to reach out to him and asked him to start collecting the work of a young artist he knew: me.
He’s had, over 50 years, a diverse practice, covering oils, photography and digital works. Along the way, he’s influenced three generations of Indian artists. Gieve Patel, owes much to him and his advice; Atul Dodiya has learned from his example of bringing wide-ranging ideas into one’s work. That intellect is what set him apart from those of his era.
He was, like his contemporaries Tyeb Mehta and FN Souza, deeply sensitive to the human condition. But that existential intensity was tempered by a sharp mind – it could mould a mathematical intellect into language. It’s how he ended up, for a while, giving up colour to paint in shades of grey. Or how he worked shapes through grids. Or created mirror images and Metascapes.
With Akbar gone, Indian art loses someone who could bring together, at a deep level, influences across the world. He was aware of Western traditions, history and philosophy.
At the same time, he was so conscious of Indian aesthetics. He saw paint as a material substance that you could manipulate. He saw our senses as not mere receptors but active tools in how we engage with the world.
Look at his panoramic landscapes. You can’t take in the whole work at once – you have to pan your eyes to scan them bit by bit. And yet at the end of it, you have a coherently structured work in your mind. It’s something I’ve thought of when I’m creating larger works with multiple parts, and welding them into a unified field.
I’ll miss him. He’d drop in to visit me when he’d come to Thane to meet Shankar Palsikar, the artist and one-time dean of the Sir JJ School of Art. Having him look at your work is such a rewarding experience. He wouldn’t look at a painting at length, but he’d say specific things about them.
But I’ll especially miss his lovely sense of happiness and life. I’ll remember him smiling as he sits in front of the sea, his delight transforming everyone around him.
Sudhir Patwardhan is an Indian contemporary painter.
(As told to Rachel Lopez)