Born in Mumbai in 1928, Akbar Padmsee graduated from the Sir J J School of Arts in 1951, with a Diploma in Painting. Following this, he went to live and work in France in 1951. In 1952, he was awarded a prize by Andre Breton on behalf of the Journale d’Art. His very first solo show was in Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, in 1954, where some of his early works were shown.
Padamsee’s pioneering spirit has allowed him to experiment with a wide range of mediums: the gamut of the traditional ones to his recent experiments with photography and digital printmaking. Whatever his chosen medium, the artist conveys a command over space, form and colour. Although he is best known for his Grey Works and Metascapes, Padamsee has experimented with film-making, sculpture, and writing as an art critic as well. It is not the categorization of his work which is of consequence, but rather the relationships with form, volume, space, time, and colour. He is acutely aware of every brush stroke; the process of creation is one of contemplation and articulation of thoughts and ideas.
The most familiar works from his extensive oeuvre are the Metascapes and mirror images, and the figures and heads, which he alternates between. The Metascapes are a development from landscapes, borne from an interest in Sanskrit texts such as the Abhijanashakuntalam, while the mirror images show his concern with the duality of existence, of form and space. The figure is treated not as an individual, not even in the heads where the association with portraiture is even stronger. The only occasion when he has handled portraits of known people, was in 1997, with his Gandhi series of works on paper in watercolour and charcoal.
Padamsee has exhibited his works in several solo exhibitions, including Past Forward, Priyasri Art Gallery, Mumbai in 2013; Sensitive Surfacesat Galerie Helene Lamarque, Paris, in 2008; Metascape to Humanscapeat Aicon Gallery, New York and Palo Alto, in 2007; and Photographs (2004-06) at the Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, in 2006. From 1994 onwards, Padamsee has held several solo shows at Pundole Art Gallery ,Mumbai, including Tertiaries, Compugraphics, Imaging Gandhi, Female Nudes, and Mirror Images. Padamsee’s first solo exhibition was held in Paris in 1952 at Galerie Saint Placide.
His recent group exhibitions include The Body Unbound, Rubin Museum of Art, New York in 2011-12 ; Progressive to Altermodern: 62 Years of Indian Modern Art at Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 2009; Faces at Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai, and Freedom 2008 – Sixty Years of Indian Independence at the Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata in 2008. The exhibition Retrospective of Watercolors, was held at Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, in 2004, and another retrospective of his works organized by Art Heritage, New Delhi, in Mumbai in 1980. Padamsee was awarded the Lalit Kala Ratna by the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, in 2004, and the Kalidas Samman by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1997.
Prices for Padamsees’s works continue to escalate at auction. Greek Landscape (1960), a seminal painting from his Grey Series, set a world record for the artist at Saffronart’s Evening Sale in New Delhi on 8 September 2016. The 4.3 x 12 foot canvas, estimated at INR 7 – 9 crores (USD 1 – 1.3 million), doubled its upper estimate to sell for INR 19.19 crores (USD 2.9 million). The sale of Greek Landscape placed Padamsee among the top five highest selling modern Indian artists, including V S Gaitonde, F N Souza, Tyeb Mehta and S H Raza.