Remembering Akbar Padamsee
The Lucky One
It was a hectic Saturday afternoon in 2011 at Prabhadevi, Mumbai in Shri Akbar Padamsee’s Studio. We were tired working from early morning getting serigraphs signed and looking at Padamsee’s new collection. There were certain abstract works that he was working on. I had this privilege to understand the process behind his abstraction. How he mixes colours, what brushes he uses, what amount of oil is to be mixed and how the monochromatic colours can be applied. To be there in an artist’s studio is amazing but to be in a legend’s studio is only possible when you are ‘The Lucky One’.
The Gujarati Bonding
His studio was always filled with bright direct sunlight coming in from one side. An entire stretch was open overlooking the newly build Bandra – Worli sea link. Whenever we would meet him, the first thing he would ask ‘Su Lesho, chai?’ (Would you like to have some tea?) in Gujarati. When the first time I met him I did not know he was so fluent with Gujarati. I would enjoy listening to his stories of fellow artists back in the 1950s in a typical Gujarati storytelling style. In addition, he would discuss for hours about spiritualism.
Quality is Everything
He would always insist that every artist should use the best of material and medium. It is medium and material that will glow your work more then you have imagined. He was a man of quality. I was 20 when I met him first and until I was 24; he would always mention this at least one time in our meeting knowingly or unknowingly. Looking back it was of course for me to understand the importance of it and it was his style to guide someone without letting him know.
When we went on to show him his and ours first serigraph ‘The Face’ in sepia tone he was delighted. He immediately loved it. His way of approval, the screen print was to start signing it.
He asked me to find a pencil for him. I was confused about why he is asking me to find a pencil when we are showing him the silkscreen edition. He was yet to confirm or speak anything about the quality of the serigraph. To my surprise, he started signing each edition. And it was then I realized ok, he has approved it.
The Welcoming Artist
He was not a typical famous artist. In 2007, every major Indian artist was at his/her career peak. Padamsee being a top ten Indian artist with such a vast work of body. His name was in every auction, exhibitions, famous collectors would collect his work, artworks priced in crores, and working with some of the famous art galleries around the world I thought Padamsee would have an attitude and show some style that ‘excuse me, I am this big Indian artist. Pay me and only then, you can touch my work attitude’. I was completely wrong. He was opposite to every point I had thought of. He was very humble, welcoming, and most importantly wanted us to grow together with him. He was very open about his work. He wanted to experiment and hear about it from a young man like me.
He did not care about money. He wanted his work to reach to the genuine art buyers in the form of limited edition serigraphs. Once he liked his first work produced by us, he immediately gave us options for 3-4 more works of his to work on. Honestly, I never expected an artist of his stature would do that at his peak of his life. There was no need for him to do so. But, I think it was his love for art and making Indian art accessible he did it.
An Inspiring Soul
Out of many advice, he asked me to read art. Read the artist. Read his style and you will never go wrong. One thing I will miss will be his constant indirect advice and suggestions for my professional betterment. He would joke, laugh and share his stories with fellow artists from the 1950s and 60s. Those moments will be cherished forever.
During my several encounters with him from 2007 to 2011 he would secretly observe and understand me. It was later in 2011; he told me that not only as a gallerist but as a curator too my understanding of art has been on an upward curve from the time he met me first.
The Fortunate Me
I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with a legend like Shri Padamsee. Today, I remember each of his advice that he would sweetly talk and discuss with me. I would like to tell you Sir, wherever you are I promise you I shall always remember your teaching, advice and suggestions and most importantly see to it that I act on it. Your vision for Indian art was unique and I wish I could take it forward.
In this blog, I have tried to share my personal experiences and knowledge gained over the years talking to and understanding artists, collectors, buyers, students and most importantly people who don’t have much interest in art and the watercolour medium. All of them have given me a different perspective in understanding this wonderful medium. It can be a quick guide for a students, novice collector or buyer who wants to start collecting watercolour artworks.