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Jayasri Burman’s enchanting oeuvre
Jayasri Burman’s pleasing and enriching visual expressions are largely derived from the vast, enchanting tradition of Hindu mythology. Her imagery exudes a dream-like and lyrical quality. She has carved a niche for herself with her unique form, style and artistic sensitivity inspired by the Indian folk element. She keeps returning to her favorite themes of myth and fable in order to revisit her roots. Akin to Madhubani technique with an affinity to printmaking style, her fairytale inspired works are comprised of motifs like swans, birds and fish – all warming up to her female figures.

Having been nurtured on fascinating tales of mythological characters, gods and goddesses, her father would read out, the memories got firmly entrenched in her heart. As she grew up, the images of popular goddesses turned into ubiquitous characters like ordinary young girls for her – emerging from their divine aura; playing merrily in the forests, singing, dancing and listening to music.

For the past few years she has been regularly coming to ‘the epicenter of Indian traditions’ in Varanasi that has inspired the religious themes of her recent series, entitled ‘Fables and Folklore’, courtesy Art Musings at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. In one of her paintings she depicted the myth of Mayuri, albeit the female character in it is very much real and exists in every modern woman. Elaborating on her art processes and practice, an accompanying note mentioned: “The artist weaves the decorative design element of the folk idiom into the intricate patterns of her works, without losing the natural charm and naiveté that is uniquely her own. Her themes deal with the traditional and sacred, but she gives her works a nuance that is reinterpreted to have a more contemporary context.”

Born in Kolkata in 1960, the artist grasped nuances of painting at Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan (1977-79), and later at Visual College of Art, Kolkata (1979-80). To start with, she was keen to become a sculptor instead of painter. She even learnt sculpture at the college, but later focused on paintings. Her meticulousness and precise detailing can be attributed to her training in printmaking. She studied gouache and graphic arts during 1979-83. Bikash Bhattacharya saw her works and encouraged her to pursue with them. After marriage, she moved to Paris. There she happened to work with, Monsieur Ceizerzi, a printmaking master. In between, she also took part in a graphic art workshop with Paul Lingren. After winning the National Academy Award for etching in 1984-85, she featured in the printmaking biennale hosted in Germany. She had four major shows in Kolkata in the next decades. She came to New Delhi in 1996.

Among her selected solos are 'The Mythical Universe', Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi (2010); ‘Sacred Feminine’, Art Musings (2006); 'Fairytales and Laments', Arts India, Palo Alto (2005); a solo at Jehangir Gallery and Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore (2004, 2002). Her major group exhibitions are 'Size Matters or Does it?' at Latitude 28, Delhi (2010); 'Think Small', Art Alive, Delhi (2009); 'Beyond the Form', Bajaj Capital Art House; Visual Art Gallery, Delhi and Jehangir Gallery (2009). Her recent noteworthy participations include 'Art Celebrates 2010: Sports and the City', courtesy Art Alive at LKA, Delhi (2010); 'Summer Show 2010', CIMA, Kolkata; Annual Exhibition, Chawla Art Gallery, Delhi (2010); 'Moderns', Royal Cultural Centre, Amman, Jordan (2008).

Jayasri Burman’s reinterpreting of sacred texts placed in contemporary contexts is perhaps a streak she inherits from her uncle Sakti Burman, renowned for his imagery of Indian myths and fables. Her cousin Maya Burman’s works also carry a strong element of fantasy. Among the painters she most admires are Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso and Van Gogh, who exudes a feeling of timelessness, as the artist reveals, something that she carries with her always. Her other favorites are Botticelli, Chagall and Jogen Chowdhury. According to her, artist and husband Paresh Maity has taught her to enjoy life, and has helped her come out of a phase of intense struggle. She began painting with a new zest after suffering personal tragedies. The positive thoughts translated in bright colors and serene feel in her works.

Painting has been a passion for Jayasri Burman from her childhood. It’s her life and the motivational force that has kept her going. Both as an artist and as a human being her philosophy is simple. She explains: “If you smile, you can make others smile; if you cry, you then make others sad hence I made up my mind to make people happy.” Her uncomplicated approach to art is marked by subjects that remain traditional. Divine and mythological characters like Dhritarashtra-Gandhari, Shiva-Parvati, Durga and Lakshmi fill her canvases that brim with bright colors and energy. The sensitivities gathered from both myth and reality - the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Tagore, the drama, ‘jatra’, bewildering Buddha images in Cambodia, music of raindrops, morning dew and soothing Rabindra Sangeet - melt into her paintings. Lotus, stems and other mythological symbols tend to branch in and out of the mythical surroundings. The artist's closeness to Nature is also reflected her in works.

Spelling out her influences, the sensitive artist says, “I appreciate every form of art. But I live in a very traditional space, and what surfaces on my canvas is essentially the reality of my surroundings. I don’t live in a skyscraper so I cannot really connect with ultra-modern themes.”