Sometime in the early 1950s, young Sakti Burman was studying at the Government School of Art (now Government College of Art and Craft) in Kolkata. One day when he, along with his classmates, was painting outside in the streets, the mother of a young child pointed to these art students and said, “If you don’t study, you’ll become like them.”
Burman, now 89, chuckles remembering the incident at his art-filled Delhi home. “That was how art was considered back then,” says the octogenarian. Today, Burman isn’t just one of India’s most prominent artists but has also managed to create a space for himself in France, as a resident and as a much-loved and respected artist over the past five decades.
In fact, the Burman family, including Sakti’s French-wife Maite Delteil and their daughter Maya, have made India’s art repertoire richer with their intricate and vibrant paintings. And that’s why it is such a rare chance to have an exhibition of the three gifted artists under a single roof.
Presented by Art Alive Gallery, the show featuring Sakti Burman’s Life is a Theatre, Maite Delteil’s The Garden of My Soul, and Maya Burman’s Games of Life is currently underway at Delhi’s Bikaner House. Exhibiting together in the same venue after decades, the trio’s show celebrates the completion of 20 years of Art Alive Gallery.
Showcasing mostly the paintings they did during the lockdown, the Burmans’ artworks are as fascinating as the stories behind them. The mother-daughter duo paint their own versions of nature, in their distinct styles.
If Maya’s canvasses are a colourful trip to a fantasy land, Maite’s works are like giant happy blossoms. But there’s something distinctly common between the two’s canvasses vibrant colours and a sense of positivity. Perhaps, because both express their love for nature and peace, through their art.
In this particular exhibition, Maya’s works are those that she created in Anthé, a small village in Northwest France where she, along with her husband and children, moved as soon as the lockdown was announced.
Maya, who studied architecture but ended up becoming a painter, explains how her works have always depicted her own universe––an amalgamation of the little and big things that constantly came back to her paintings. For example, the painting titled ‘Happiness and Light’ has an infectious exuberance about it. There’s love, laughter, music and nature.
“When people ask me what I am painting, I say it’s maybe a place I wish to be, a universe I dream to be in. Now I’m living in that place,” she says, referring to Anthé. While Maya painted away happily in her countryside home during the lockdown, Maite, who would shuttle between India and France every year, got stranded in India.
And so she painted what was close to her back home––nature. In the painting titled ‘Summer Birds’, one can see several birds peeking from a fruit-laden tree. Alongside is a bright fuschia tree full of flowers showing a distinct influence of Indian miniatures. The 89-year-old artist who first came to India in 1964 after marrying Sakti in France, says, “Back then I found Indian artworks quite dull and lacking in colour. They would mostly be black, brown and ochre. But, I was quite inspired by the detailing of Indian miniatures.”
Just like his wife, Sakti too was never quite away in spirit from his birth country––India. The ongoing show depicts his Indian roots with paintings such as ‘Homage to Kalighat’ and ‘Life is a Theatre’ showing Bengal’s babu culture. There’s also a rendition of Sakti’s famous Noah’s Ark.
Born in Calcutta in pre-Independent India, Sakti’s art has evolved alongside the trajectory of Indian art.
After studying art in Kolkata, Sakti went to the prestigious École Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris where he built a life with his wife Maite. And yet, he’s so unabashedly clear about his influences and attributes them to masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Ingres, Picasso and Matisse.
In a previous interview, Sakti had reminisced, “Initially I was of course inspired by my teachers. But when I went to France, these masters had a huge impact on my work because people are influenced by the place they inhabit.”
Speaking about the almost lyrical and fantastical characters in Sakti’s current body of works, curatorial advisor Ranjit Hoskote explains, “His pictorial fables revolve around the family, the birth and onward journeys of children. They form an intricate fabric of dream and reality woven through the proximity of several protagonists.
We find ourselves, often, intruding upon tableaux suffused with the affection between lovers, between parents and children, between humans and animals or birds.”One can’t help but wonder if the child who was being reprimanded on a street in Kolkata in the 50s did grow up to be like Sakti Burman––an iconic artist.
Over the years, Sakti Burman developed a distinct style of painting called the ‘marbling effect’. This technique entails blending oils with acrylics to create fresco-like works on paper and canvas.