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This artist enjoys his success

Arati Menon Carroll  |  Mumbai 

has escaped middle-class mediocrity to seek out a global audience.
The androgynous man in the canvas looks tortured, confused in another, all powerful in a third, and then diminutive, overshadowed by enormous space and surrounded by graphic interpretations, suggestive of disparate tensions.
Springing from his career in illustrating for The Times of India and The Sunday Observer, recalls the birth of his protagonist, "I worked at conceiving the prototype of the young, urban, Indian male for my illustrations. Among the three or four that I developed, one emerged supreme "" the alpha male, if you must "" bald, darkened and featureless. Emotive yet distanced, he hated what he saw around him but said not a word against it."
Viewers seemed to relate to him, and so the shy Padwal used him to say his piece, so that, as he says, "he could speak for both himself and me".
Reassured by the recognition of his talent by people like (a colleague at Trikaya) and art collector Harsh Goenka, Padwal tentatively mobilised his first show in 1994 at Mumbai's Jehangir Art Gallery, only to sell-out completely.
His use of multi-dimensional objects like driftwood, fibre glass, metal sheets and other everyday materials, injecting life into them with his art, continued to inspire him through the next five years. Then one day he stopped painting on objects; his art, he found, was eclipsed by the object.
"People were more excited about the novelty of the material than the art, and that's when I realised I didn't want to be in the business of entertaining people," says Padwal.
Meanwhile, the man in the frame was changing. He was getting more expressive, his moods more telling and the colours around him unpredictably brightening.
"I realised that to be able to communicate to people, you first need to arrest their attention with something," explains Padwal. The man was finally speaking out... on globalisation, corporatisation, consumerism, and more recently, political and religious unrest.
For someone who grew up in a conservative Maharashtrian household, and who, until a few years ago, was clumsy in communication, Padwal's artistic vocabulary spells universality.
"I always believed it was high time Indian artists began looking at the way art was shaping up in the West, and not get stuck in glorified pseudo-traditionalism. I don't want my forehead to be branded 'Indian'. Instead, what I would like to do is take Indian art successfully to the global market," says Padwal.
And that shouldn't be hard if his success at home is anything to go by. For all the critics in 1994 who dismissed him as too avant-garde for the Indian palate, his art has been an all out coup, with seemingly no fairy godmothers or backers.
"I believe in the old school by way of marketing. I believe that your work should speak for itself, and for me it has," says Padwal with child-like immodesty.
And he is enjoying his monetary gains unembarassedly. "I will not dress or talk like an artist because I want to be perceived as part of the accepted mould. I will dress well and live well and let my life be reflective of my success," says Padwal who admits he never imagined he will make enough to move out of the crowded and artistically restrictive borough that he was born into.
Forty potent works lie benignly, waiting to be shipped to New York where Padwal is showing for the first time in Soho's Agora Gallery. Every canvas has a sentence written in a different foreign language. They all read "Tastes of Humanity"; the show has the same theme.
"I never title my work, I just introduce a cryptic clue somewhere as a teaser that will then hopefully prompt viewers to interpret the work in their own way."
With art shows scheduled in New York and London over the next six months, and not a single canvas in his studio to even prove his existence (every work he produces is gone before you can say Good Heavens) Padwal has more than just spoken. He is laughing his way through.

First Published: Sat, August 20 2005. 00:00 IST
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