Art Appreciation: Akbar Padmasee’s Metascapes

Author: Gauri Kshirsagar

“…colours expand and contract, colours travel on the surface of the static painting… colour trajectory is strategy… A colourist needs to master the art of silencing some colours, so as to render others eloquent.” – Akbar Padmasee

Akbar Padamsee, India Myth and Reality, Aspects of Modern Indian Art, Oxford, 1982, p. 17

My twins who are 2nd graders now, have this interesting chapter in their art book called ‘Splish-splash’. This chapter explores different textures and colour combinations. There is also this interesting concept where they are asked to imagine a topsy-turvy world; a world with jumbled up colours. How does it make you feel? It is a very fascinating way to expose the children to think ‘out of the box’, to make them understand an impressionist’s view of the world. How an object is seen through a different perspective by an artist.

I am not an artist myself, but I feel a simple way to explicate this concept to children is through ‘Landscapes’. The earth is a wondrous creation. From barren deserts to lush rainforests; from swelling oceans to cloudy skies… the earth provides endless inspirations for visual artists. Landscape artists can choose to depict their vision of the earth in a variety of ways- analyzing the source of light, examining the range of hues and tones, filtering the mass of information and transforming the outer vision into painted reality. Artists can use a variety of techniques within their chosen medium to add emotional undertones to a work of art. They can choose wild, “unnatural” color schemes that are expressive and striking. They can take creative liberties to rearrange elements in a scene, adding something here, subtracting something there, to create a compelling composition. Their landscapes can be realistic, or they can be abstract or surreal. When it comes to art, the possibilities are as endless as the imagination.

One such fabulous landscape artist is Akbar Padmasee. A master of many mediums, Padamsee has leant his hand to many artistic mediums including oil painting, photography, film and digital printmaking. In painting, his “Metascapes” such as this one are a recurring style.

He uses strong colour to define space and form as in this case shades of blue and white are used to demonstrate the fast flowing river through a landscape of red, brown and ochre hills. The clouds are dabbled shades of grey, beige and white. Akbar Padamsee began painting his Metascapes in 1970. These whimsical and poetic landscapes are mythic or archetypal landscapes are expressed visually by a stringent ordering of timeless elements, such as the earth, the sun, and the moon, in a temporal space.

‘Lines define the spaces, but the strokes of the brush define the planes, this is what gives depth to the painting.’ 

Akbar Padamsee – The Making of a Metascape, in conversation with Laurent Bregeat

We watched in awe the artist’s videos (recommended by the school) in which he embarks on a rudimentary line drawing and then decides the direction of the brushstrokes and only then, segments into planes. His intention is to transfer the linear into the planar. Padamsee calls his metascapes ‘two dimensional perspective’. He looks at the relationship between the primary colour and complimentary colour and avoids juxtaposing the primary with the complimentary. This work is a prime example of Padamsee’s aptitude as a colourist and his deep understanding of the emotive impact of colours.

To understand this relationship between primary colours and complimentary colour, all the children in the twin’s class were given a project of replicating a ‘Metascape’ using only Primary colours and palette knives.

Following is a short video of the project:

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