Mala Marwah essays

Through variance of all kinds in the stylistic concerns of an artist, one factor that makes itself clearly available to sight is the vision that dictates his path and choices. The visual statement describes its own temper. In the artist's table of priorities, the actual choice of subject and the position it occupies lie in direct conjunction with this percep­tion. In the working of it, Akbar Padamsee's formal vision commands both. His concern with exactitude and the measures of order exceed, in the aggregate, all other preoccupa­tions. We may see this as the corollary in art to the other two subjects in the triumvirate of unembellished form - music and the spiritual experience - which all strain towards and at their best include a high pitch of refinement and attenuation. Enclosure of any kind, or sharp divisions between the thing that is said and the voice it assumes, are destroyed. In moving from the early figural work to his present landscapes, Akbar Padamsee's paintings emphasize this genesis, which is perhaps both stylistic and spiri­tual.

Mala Marwah (MM): It would seem that our creative instincts have for their base a fund of beliefs that I can only describe crudely as a personal philosophy. This may or may not actually surface, but does however inform our work; a kind of absent persuasion. This experience is as illuminating as it is perhaps constricting, but nevertheless points, in a certain direc­tion. It is for this reason of particular interest. Perhaps you could define your 'point of departure' in this context.

Akbar Padamsee (AP): One is born with certain understandings. These understandings are not present in sharp contours, but are characterised by doubts about the nature of the perceived, for instance the horizontal as passive because our eyes are horizontally oriented, or the nature of volume dependent on the space between the two eyes. These questions ultimately determine one's attitude to form, or the field of the energetic - philosophy as counterpoint to the doubts present in one's mind as to the nature of the seen - to see better, one departs from the conventional "etinal impression, to a vision, which is later termed a personal vision, as it gains distance from the conventional. In time the personal vision becomes the conventional as it gets absorbed and accepted. Nobody gets shocked at Magritte's room - sized apple, and Van Gogh's tortured brushstrokes appear beautifully textured.

MM: What you are saying is that perception is really the sum of certain concrete as well as certain unconscious factors, that our personal expression' is dependent on this numi­nous aspect of our beings. In connection with this I believe the external and non-aesthetic information about a work of art is necessary to our appreciation of it - i.e., the inclusion of diverse stimuli in one's work. Metaphysical and quasi-mystical feelings acquaint us intuitively with a reality beyond appearances; and it happens that all our experiences often work towards a singular end if we are engaged in a particular creative activity.

Would your interest in the 'formal' aspects of film-making, the features of technical and structural finesse work towards reinforcing your similar - and singular - interest in the painting itself? It seems to me that this is so. I wonder what you think.

AP: Film and painting are complementary. The painting is static, the film moves. One creates movement in painting, one negates movement in film. When using colour in film, it took me time to get used to the idea that green and orange make yellow, violet and green make blue, violet and orange make rod, and finally that violet, green and orange produce white; exactly the opposite of painting. In film one works with light, in painting with pigment. The more one mixes the paints, the further we move into the tertiary’s and grey; the more one mixes colour in film the more one moves towards white, and ulti­mately to the translucent celluloid.

The use of colour in representational painting is almost synonymous with the purposeful use of colour in signaling systems. My own experi­ence as a painter teaches me that colour exists on three planes, the first plane between the viewer and the canvas, the second beyond the canvas, and between- these two, somewhere where the canvas stands the third plane exists. Then there are certain invisible areas where the eye does not touch, which are the areas of silence, and these are the most eloquent. The problem is not one of colour organization but of colour circuit, where nearnes9 and distance are not determined by proximity. A red linked to a distant blue, ignoring the adjacent orange. Assigning the canvas to an approximate distance from the viewer, not measurable, because tone and colour are travelling in space. In this context working with film was like discovering the other face of the painter.

MM: Certainly the two would seem to cohere. I find that this cohesion is exemplary of your interest in combining subject and style. Your early work with its emphasis on the figural and its dominance of the canvas has given way to your present work with its emphatic (and highly complex!) simplification. It would appear that your concern with image is auxiliary to your concern with style; in these paintings we encounter nature with a small 'n', rather than Nature as the representational landscapist may see it, with pools and shady trees, narrow roads vanishing into the distance. In your Meta­scapes the content becomes the form. The chief point of interest here is not nature but the conceptual and objective exercise itself, the form the image takes.

AP: Nature as idea and concept is the great creative-destructive force. The mighty monuments of art are ground to dust or ingested into nature's belly, one might think nature resented art as an encroachment into ho- territory. But we are ourselves nature - by excluding nature we have shaped ourselves into artists. The terrible in nature enthralls us now, we placate these forces by giving them forms, we worship these forms and gain power over them, or we sacrifice ourselves to them. Our enclosures exclude nature, in these enclosures we include her in our language, the language of art. In appearance only it is sun and moon, tree and mountain. These forms belong to the language of art, they have emerged from line, tone, colour; when they disintegrate they merge into their origin, line, tone, colour, or the ultimate white of the canvas.

MM: Spoken like Akbar Padamsee. Your obvious contemplative approach seems to underline a ruminating mind. The same mood pervades your canvas - even the moon thinks upon itself. There is a certain poetry in this. It would actually be misleading to dwell on this feature, as it is not your prime concern, but I believe it perpetuates and deepens your work. I suspect the actual beginnings and context of your images of sun, moon, terrainmayrevealsomethingofthisdisposition, this mystic character.

AP: The idea of using the sun and moon in my metascapes originated when I was reading the introductory stanza to Abhijnanashakuntalam, where Kalidasa speaks of the eight visible forms of the Lord without mentioning them by name, the sun and the moon as the two controllers of time, water as the origin of all life, fire as the link between man and god and the earth as the source of all seed. This subjection of the denotative sense to a poetic meaning where denotation lies is a mere sign, by this process the artist deals with reality without describing it; for descriptive art is merely illustrative; when the poetic meaning is superimposed upon the sign a new form arises which belongs to the mind of the artist, not to the natural environment.

MM: lt would appear that here form - in its totality - becomes the chief factor.

AP: In art as in language, the form-phrase has the energy of the verb, the ego of the noun, the transforming power of the preposition, the combinative skill of the conjunction. The juxtaposition and interpenetration of these multiple meanings constitutes the form-phrase. Whatever the message conveyed, the principles that govern language - and art - remain supreme.

MM: The Metascapes of Akbar Padamsee, archetypal and timeless, include both a truly detached analytical approach and a fascination for tautologic rules. In these paintings the image prods the exercise, form being distilled to reveal the ore. Curiously the endeavour is as old as it is modern: the artistic pursuit of a philosophical intent.

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