Akbar Padamsee was an Indian artist and painter considered one of the pioneers in modern Indian art along with S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, and M.F. Husain. Over the years he worked in different mediums such as oil painting, plastic emulsion, watercolor, sculpture, printmaking, computer graphics, and photography. In addition, he worked as a filmmaker, sculptor, photographer, engraver, and lithographer. Today, his paintings are among the most valued by modern Indian artists. His painting Reclining Nude was sold for US$1,426,500 at Sotheby’s in New York on 25 March 2011.
Early life and family
Padamsee was born on 12 April 1928 in a traditional Khoja Muslim family belonging to the Kutch of Gujarat. His ancestors belong to the charan caste and were court musicians and bards. For some generations, his family had settled in the Kathiawar region. Padamsee’s grandfather had been the sarpanch (headman) of Vaghnagar, a village in the Bhavnagar district. He had earned the honorific name Padamshree after he distributed his entire granary to the village during a famine.
Padamsee’s father, Hassan, was a businessman who owned a glassware and furniture business and 10 buildings. His mother Jenabhai Padamsee was a homemaker. Akbar Padamsee was one of the eight children and one of his brothers is actor Alyque Padamsee. Although, Padamsee’s parents were rich but not well educated. Padamsee and his brothers were first to attend school and learn English there, their parents later picked up a smattering of the language from their sons.
Early in life, he started copying images from The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine in the account books of his father at their store in South Mumbai’s Chakla Street. He met his first mentor Shirsat, a watercolorist at St. Xavier High School, Fort. He first learned watercolor followed by classes on nudes at Charni Road for the preparation of his studies in Sir J.J. School of Art. It led him to join the Sir J.J. School of Art; he was allowed to join the course directly in its third year.
Connecting with Progressive Artists’ Group
When the progressive artists’ group was formed, he was still studying fine art at the school. By the time he received his diploma, he was already associated with the group.
In 1950, Raza was awarded a French government scholarship and he invited Padamsee to Paris. In 1951, Padamsee left for Paris where artist Krishna Reddy introduced him to the surrealist Stanley Hayter. Hayter became his next mentor and Padamsee soon joined his studio ‘Atelier 17’. In 1952, Padamsee exhibited his works in Paris; he exhibited anonymously and shared the prize awarded by French Magazine Journal d’Arte with artist Jean Carzou. His first solo show was held at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1954. Soon he became one of the leading artists in India. In 1962, he received the Lalit Kala Akademi Fellowship. In 1965, he received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation and was invited to be an artist-in-residence by the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He returned to India in 1967.
He was the member of many artistic committees and took part in the development of the collections of Bharat Bhawan museum of Bhopal as well as created the Vision Exchange Workshop. He curated many cultural events and received Padma Shri in 2009.
His topics include landscapes, nudes, heads, and portraits created in pencil and charcoal. the colored matters in his paintings create depth effects in his oil-based works. It creates a pictorial technique by adding emerging divided forms.
In addition to his painted works, he had done black and white photographs that use light for dimension creation. He also explored compugraphics and plastic genres. Between 1969-1970, he made a rare 16mm experimental film titles Syzygy. This was a silent film completely made up of lines and dots. Although it is made by hand, these kinds of films are fall under digital art. In 2015, Ashim Ahluwalia discovered his second film titled Events In A Cloud Chamber. This film runtime was 6 minutes and features a dreamlike terrain inspired by one of Padamsee’s own oil paintings.
In 1954, Akbar married Solange Gounelle in Paris. The couple had one daughter, Raisa Padamsee. In 1968, Akbar moved to India and lived and worked in Mumbai with his wife Bhanumati Padamsee. In the last years of his life, Padamsee and his wife Bhanu are reported to have moved into the Isha Yoga Center, Coimbatore permanently, after having visited the center a few times several years ago.
He was awarded the Lalit Kala Akademi Fellowship (Lalit Kala Ratna) by the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Arts, in 1962, the Kalidas Samman from the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1997 for Plastic Arts and the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honor in 2010.
On 6 January 2020, he died in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
Vikash Kalra is a self-taught artist & writer based in New Delhi whose work has been exhibited across India and is held in several private and corporate collections.