"What I express is space. Cézanne was a master of space […] I used the concept of the grid as geometry or proportion […] However it was only in 1955 when I returned to Paris after the trial, that I developed these ideas further." –Akbar Padamsee
Following his graduation from the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay and urged by Syed Haider Raza, Akbar Padamsee joined his close friend in Paris. From his arrival in 1951, he became fascinated with the European masters, modern and classical alike, and a desire to assimilate the aesthetic of Paris. At the age of only twenty one Padamsee was received with open arms by the Parisian intelligentsia community. “When I first went to Paris […] I won a prize and was asked for an interview with André Breton the art critic. At the time I was 21 or 22. Breton asked me my age and was amazed I was so young as another winner was 40. He asked “What country are you from? I said ‘India– It’s a great civilization so I am not surprised.’” (In conversation with the artist, February 2012)
Padamsee briefly went back to India but by 1955 he returned to Paris, which for him was the crucible for his creativity. Untitled (Cityscape) was painted in 1957, during a period of fervent experimentation. The present painting is a testament to the unquestionable influence of the avant-garde that surrounded him during the period and bears similarities with, Georges Rouault and Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse, all of whose work he encountered in person for the first time in Paris.
Ever the erudite and articulate artist, Padamsee explains in an interview with Homi Bhabha; “I could explain it with the help of a cruciform shape. If it is a red line, then it becomes yellow at the other side, and this yellow line would become red. So when you paint it would be a red-orange and the other a yellow orange, which would give you a sense of illumination or incandescence. I have explored this concept further […] in the years between ’56 and 58’ (Artist statement, H. Bhabha, ‘Figure and Shadow: Conversations on the Illusive Art of Akbar Padamsee’, Work in Language, 2010, p. 21)
However, it was Padamsee’s unique use of schema that set his works apart. The genre of the landscape gave him particular freedom to express his sophisticated levels of aesthetic inquiry. More than any modernist, Padamsee turned to science and investigation to create systems from which would emerge unique, innovative masterpieces. Anupa Mehta discusses Padamsee’s approach to landscape in the 50s, “The emphasis on geometric forms in the landscapes of the mid to late ‘50s […] indicate a need for order and move towards a universality that could allow the works to reach a transcendental space.” (A. Mehta, ‘The Inherent Lightness of Being: Akbar Padamsee’s Oeuvre of the ‘50s’, Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 134) In Untitled (Cityscape) the flattened Cubist rooftops are less an academic assimilation of modernist aesthetics and more a structure around which to harness his own imagination and vision.
Padamsee’s schematic language extends beyond geometries and the calculation of space and into a unifying color theory. Untitled (Cityscape) is a triumph of form and palette. As Padamsee himself stated,” 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. A tension between colour and colour creates its own harmony, a planar movement.” (Artist statement, A. Mehta, Work in Language, 2010, p. 138)