What does one experience of Nature through landscape; earth, water? Sky? Time circuits with the sun and moon. Seasons change. From seed comes sap. From sap - this driving force, a structure. This structure flowers. Seed implodes. The structure collapses; the germ remains.
The bones of mountains themselves remain and watch. Nature is process, is also the situation of man's activity, the measure of his life-span.
Let us take landscape as our immediate subject. For Akbar it is not a location. It is generic; a landscape, any landscape, an ideal landscape. Thinking back to the work since 1973-74 certain elements recur; a horizon high up on the canvas or a pathway leading to it, a monumental land-mass heavily modelled; modulated into light and shadow, water, sometimes a sun or moon: two points reflected. No human beings.
Colour is rich and significant by intention. It makes its presence felt at once. The image itself almost takes second place. This dense opaque colour is built up from the surface of the canvas and modelled by knife or brush. Painterly. The gesture is important. Through it the painter connects muscularly to the controlling of his pigment.
These obvious and recognizable elements tend to return again and again. Yet their meaning is fluid to the relationships built, just as words within a sentence must them-selves undergo a subtle modification or alteration of intention. Akbar consciously and consistently concerns himself with form: it is his means. There is a constant two-way pull between intuited or emoted perception and his conceptual grammar of formalism, the means. Both are valid ways of perceiving. They may even act as mutual controls. In traditional schools of landscape as in Chinese naturalism, grounded in wash and the philosophy of the I Ching, the cognitive and the intuitive would have been considered parallel exercises. The paintings themselves show no sign of tension. It is the paintings after all that are the final comment. For me they work as mood statements, states of mind, expressive but withheld, their focus earth and water, the sky an operative point but frequently implied. They are fleshly, of the earth. They recall the nudes of the 'fifties rather than the Prophet series or the '50s. landscapes that are quiet well mannered studies. Yet since the two major canvases at the 1975 Triennale Akbar has chosen to call his paintings "Metascapes". From this one assumes that his relationship to what he paints is something other than purely concretise. The image, then, matters. His paintings do not read as illustrations and are not intended to.
Landscape as Inscape. Akbar's only comment at this point is that Nature has little or no meaning to one who does not confess to his own interior or imaginative life. This would seem to be confirmed by experience. On one hand, Nature is the field of perception and what is relayed to eye or touch is supported by an objective physics of causation but what is sensed may he claimed by the sensory agent. Meanwhile the theory of landscape in any culture presupposes a psychological stance and returns to a metaphysic.
European Romanticism threw aside Descartes' distinction between mind and matter and also the technological intrusion of the industrial Revolution to return to a state of solitude and Immanence. The gestural painters of postwar America, such as Clifford Still and Mark Rothko similarly explored the scale of the event by subtracting the human bystander.
The miniaturists of the Rajasthani and Pahari qalams were definitely inclusive by comparison. In the Rasamanjari Series of Basohli the gesture between the ideal lovers is the dominant mode. The mode contextualises time, season, setting, the natural environment and the presiding deity. It is the centre of all formal organisation. In the Rasamanjari Series all forms of life are energetic, each specific detail clues us in to the subtle meaning of union, the explosion of lotus buds, undulating vibrations of trees, a tongue of lightening: spark between positive and negative energies, the slow drift of egrets...
With typical understatement the Chinese classicists of the Sung period assumed the Principle of a natural eco-system by which complementary dualities continually metamorphosed: Dark with Bright, Strong with Yielding. This principle energised Nature, Civilisation and the affairs of men as the circuit of Tao. At the same time the Japanese sumi painters referred through the flowering of brush on void to the significant detail of awakening. Here again the hand that controlled the brush was the art of the flower.
Trace-elements of these attitudes may consciously or unconsciously have influenced Akbar at different points in his working life, but he subscribes to no single system. The paintings are simple. Uncomplicated. Take a reasonably typical 1975 Metascape (till recently in the collection of Black Partridge Art Gallery). It is little less than five foot square. The colours centre in on two deep tones of blue and an umber ground: the feeling is tranquil, solitary, almost threateningly so.
The eye settles slowly and sensuously into the painting by means of folds in the land-surface and their overlapping shoulders of rise and tall. Yet the foreground holds reflection of a cadmium crescent in the deep blue of the sky above. The slow horizontal scanning from side to side is pinned together as it were by this single motif of the reflected moon. It is a form of notation; literally, a "refldction". That is all.
Halve any Metascape painted since 1975 Akbar paints out, or run an eye down its axis. And you will find the two halves balance or couple, twinning like a man's left hand and right hand.
Looking more closely one notices that the moulding shadows are tones that vary un-hurriedly over the surface. They are not definitive nor directly related to the single light-source of the moon, but act as secondary harmony to the two dominant colours that suggest the mood. Textural handling of the three natural elements differs only slightly. This lack of differential implies a single field. The 'sky' receives the heaviest impasto in Prussian blue. The umber ground shows through the cobalt blue 'water', but this is unusual in Akbar's work and the effort at transparency is not pursued.
The effect is something motionless, dense, almost congealed, the repose is sombre. Imminently so. Land-mass cradles at horizon the deeper colour (a frequent characteristic of the paintings from 1975 on). The image is heavy, passive.
Withdrawing from the painting and letting it come to rest on the eye, the colours begin to interact. The blues recede in proportion to their depth. The umber stays where it is. The cadmium point comes forward. This eventually is the point to which the painter is leading, towards "a colour-circuitry". Elementary as the principle is, few painters use it consciouslyanylongeroutsideof pure abstraction. For Akbar is highly conscious. It is almost the reason for the painting.
Back to the question of Metascape. Reflection is stated, the human being withdrawn from the event on canvas; a Romantic stance.
Yet the mode of communication is classically Indian: "Where the gesture is, the eye follows; where the eye is, the mind follows; where the mind is, is the state of mind; and in the state of mind, is the essence."
In the Raga-Ragini Series colour had been used deliberately to induce a state of mind (bhava). Red vibrates, is passionate, the colour of advance or of Sringara while blue, its opposite, is meditative, inward, self-directed. White reflects while black absorbs or consumes. The associations are obvious. Likewise the issue of placement in relation. At its further level this state of mind may shift the gear into a deeper apprehension, into what I would choose to call 'the psycho-emotive essence' (rasa). Nature is process, nature is environment. Nature finally is the entire perceptual field that is presented to the senses with its intricate dynamics, the laws of physics, acoustics and the rest. What actually takes place between the animation of colour-kinesis and the receptive eye? In a purely classical system the eye that apprehended the principle and understood this level of conscious metaphor would have been the eye of the true raika. This situation obtained as a situation of extreme precision and iconography, one that the contemporary visual arts can no longer allow.
However we evolve our metaphors. And the Natural principle of complementariness continues to intrigue.
Akbar's visual drama lies in his notation of the sun and moon. It is the significant detail that aligns the canvas vertically. In this painting a cadmium yellow moon, most characteristically a red and white point with their reflection; an extreme reduction. Red advances. White, the source of colour and the reminder of the canvas-source withdraws. The symbols call to their reflection. The reflection looks back at the symbol.
Meanwhile the image reacts, both as a passive catalyst to the colour-technics, and as image in itself. The moon after all (and the sun), signals the passage of time. Dark-ness and light are states of mind as well as physical laws.
Plants grow on the land's back. Water pares back at the land. And the land with-stands, is also the ground of change, itself recumbent, female to the sky or massing itself to thrust at its own horizons.
Akbar takes the image almost for granted. Still it is there, quiet and undramatic and durable, evoking and dissolving its own structures. Like a dreamscape strangely familiar, it repeats itself again and again even though the topography like the success or failure of the painting itself, may depend on one canvas to the next. It is a mature language.
Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary, 1977