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AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
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AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)

Untitled (Mirror Image)

AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
Untitled (Mirror Image)
signed and dated 'PADAMSEE 2005' (lower right)
oil on canvas; diptych
48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm.)
Painted in 2005
Sotheby's New York, 22 March 2007, lot 118
Acquired from the above

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Lot Essay

The eye apprehends one panel and, before it can settle down and rest, is immediately grabbed and pulled away by the laterally inverted presentation on the adjacent panel. But once again before vision can anchor itself onto this surface it is pulled back into the panel from where it had leapt a moment ago. This back-and-forth movement of the line of vision weaves into existence a shimmering convexity of visual space that encases the vista of the painting.
- B. Parthan, 2010

Pushing the boundaries of his protracted engagement with the genre of landscape, in the mid-1990s Akbar Padamsee began painting a series of large format diptychs he termed Mirror Images. Like his earlier Metascapes, these paintings depicted mythic or archetypal landscapes without any explicit chronology or geography, expressed visually by a stringent ordering of natural elements such as the earth, sky, water, sun and moon within the frame. Seemingly infinite and eternal, these monumental paintings represent the apogee of the artist’s enduring studies of perception, color theory, philosophy and states of existence.

“These works bring together the artist’s philosophical interests with his formal interests in colour. Said Padamsee: 'When I make mirror images, they remain two, but a fusion compounds them into one, as the starting point of visual experience.' Dualities seem to define the career of Akbar Padamsee; an Indian who uses European forms, a colourist who paints monochrome works, who uses oil as much as he relies on ink and deploys both line and stain, a figurative painter who paints sublime landscapes, and an artist who is intuitive as he is intellectual” (A. Jhaveri, A Guide to 101 Modern and Contemporary Indian Artists, Mumbai, 2005, pp. 60-61).

The idea of the Mirror Image came to Padamsee while he was working on a series of etchings. Realizing that the image he etched on the plate was different from the final print, a mirror image representing a slightly different and unfamiliar reality, he decided to explore the possibilities of this schism as a device in his painting. He recalls, “I was surprised to note that the print made from the plate I had etched did not resemble the original. The gestalt had changed. I started using a mirror when working on the plate to figure out what the print would look like. Looking at my face in this mirror, I realized that what I saw was a mirror-image, as unfamiliar as the print from the etched plate” (Artist statement, M. Pestonji, Akbar Padamsee: Mirror-Images, Mumbai, 1994, unpaginated).

In this series, in addition to color and texture, Padamsee added scale and the physical format of the painting to the arsenal of tools he employed to challenge the limitations and versatility of the landscape genre. Each of the Mirror Images was created as a diptych, a format that inherently relies on two parts to form a complete image. In Padamsee’s diptychs, however, rather than completing each other, the images on one panel reversed, recalled or reflected those on the other. Simultaneously analogous and different, these paired images allowed the artist to investigate concepts of perception, duality and iteration across the picture plane.

Drawing equally on science and philosophy, contemporary theories of cognition and ancient doctrines of consciousness, Padamsee distills the erudition he gained over several decades of study in his Mirror Images with each carefully considered stroke of his palette knife. Meticulously constructed, these paintings are “brilliantly choreographed planes of light and dark made in thick impasto which evoke mountains, fields, sky and water. The controlled cadence of the colours breaks into a throbbing intensity as the artist in his most masterly works, evokes infinite time and space” (Y. Dalmia, Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 17).

In each panel of this painting echoed or repeated forms come together in a dual representation of what seem to be parallel realities. Although its scale is monumental, for every individual focus, every path that leads the eye, there is a visual counterpoint to be discovered. As the artist noted, “Space-cognition and time-cognition depend on a compound duality, inside-outside, expansion-contraction, exhalation-inhalation, the round and the square. We inhale, the trees exhale, we exhale, the trees inhale, a mirrored symbiosis. Expression must contain its dialectical opposite, the conscious and the unconscious on the same psychic plane. I have two eyes, two retinas, but the mind compounds the two images into one as the starting point of visual experience [...] Colours expand and contract, colours reach out of their skin to invade each other’s territories, the blue goes in search of its complementary counterpart yellow or orange. The further away from each other I place them the greater the space and the voyage” (Artist statement, M. Pestonji, Ibid., 1994, unpaginated).

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