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Artist Profile1
Unraveling the mystique of artist Sakti Burman’s painterly realm
One of India’s internationally celebrated masters, Sakti Burman’s oeuvre imbibes influences of both Indian tradition and Western culture. He incorporates medieval icons and other mesmerizing motifs, to cultivate dream-like scenarios through a marbling effect that entails blending of oil and acrylic paint. His paintings - rich in detailed and soaked in bold, bright hues - exude romanticism and fantasy. They narrate timeless tales of courtly romances, and bring to life an enchanting world, comprising comely maidens, flutists, birds, beasts, fruit laden trees and exotic flowers.

The captivating canvases rediscover a lost paradise, where all curious creatures coexist harmoniously. The mythical creatures along with human characters and godly images evoke memories of ancient tempered frescoes. There is abundant beauty and joy inherent in his incandescent paintings that weave a phantasmagoria with contemporary tableaux where the reality mingles with imaginary realm. His compositions reverberate with fables and lyricism.

Born in Kolkata in 1935, he lived in a small village in the pre-partition Bangladesh till the age of seven or eight. The terrible famine of Bengal in 1943 shook his little world. The way he grew up, immersed in art and culture as part of day-to-day living, shaped his tender mind. His mother, sisters and aunts created thattas, full of imaginary things, almost like tableaux. The vivacious village life, the hues of greens and oranges, pinks and blues, a streak of spirituality, and the Indian miniatures motivated him. He recounts, “My father never discouraged me to paint but he would have been happier to see me becoming a lawyer or a doctor.” But he was destined to be a painter.

During his college days, he would travel around the city, sketching the people and life around. After completing his graduation at the Government Art College in Kolkata, he went to Paris on a scholarship from the French Government. He honed his artistic skills at L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Art. During this period, he frequently visited Italy, and was inspired by the frescoes and paintings of the Renaissance period. His characteristic imagery inadvertently resembled the weathered frescos. He returned to India as if to soak in the glory of Ajanta, Ellora and Konark for a fresh perspective of ancient Indian art traditions. It is understandable why his pictorial sensibility is immersed in the finesse of Italian frescoes and serenity of bewildering Buddhist cave murals, coupled with European influences, often reminding one of fabulous French tapestry.

Since 1954, he has had 40 one-man exhibitions in various cities worldwide, including 'Archetype', Aicon Gallery, London (2009); 'Encaptured Gaze' in New York, Mumbai and New Delhi (2008-09). The prominent group exhibitions in which work has recently been featured are 'Aureus 2011', Gallerie Nvya, Delhi (2011); '10 x 10', Gallery Threshold, Delhi; 'Dali's Elephant', Aicon, London; 'The Living Insignia', Gallery Ensign, Delhi and 'Modern Folk’, Aicon, New York (all in 2010). He has participated in Paris Biennales (1963, 1965 and ’67) apart from presenting his work in leading museums in France. Incidentally, his wife Maite Delteil is a noted French artist. His daughter Maya Burman and niece Jayasri Burman (who is married to Paresh Maity) have carved a niche for themselves in the world of art.

Sakti Burman's paintings, as mentioned above, evoke the look of a weathered fresco, depicting figures in hues that the viewer feels were once vivid, but are now faded. They transport one into their dream-like world, where the perspective and composition is often that of medieval icons. He uses a marbling effect, and employs pointillism to apply paint. Apart from allegorical and fictitious anthropomorphic creatures, his multi-textured works include self-portrait, on occasions. Revealing his artistic influences and inspirations, Sakti Burman has stated: "My childhood memories are mixed up with the existing realities. In creative art, the role of memory is well recognized fact. In my case, that of a painter staying away from his milieu, memory is doubly potent in sustaining the creative energies."

A benign dream-like feel is evident in his canvases, as if oblivious to grim realities of today's world engulfed by violence, poverty and conflicts. They exude a serene sense of peace and joy. The artist explains: “The grief and miseries are all there, but I harbor a hope that they might disappear one day. Ultimately, hope is the only thing you can hold on to and continue living.” It’s this optimism he brings to the fore in his work, underlining the positive side of life. Working in his Paris atelier, Sakti Burman is in close communion with his unique painterly world, in an eternal search for the indefinable. Engaging with serenity and grace, he creates a soothing sense of tranquility in his compositions. His practice revolves around recreating and recasting existence of humanity at different spaces, places and times.

Renowned art critic Ranjit Hoskote terms the veteran artist ‘a pilgrim of complex allegiances’, who takes the viewer on a magical tour where objects from the mythologies and ancient history merge into his personal narration, by overlapping past and the present, interior and the exterior spaces, as well as traditions from east and the west. Though he has lived in Paris for over five decades, the artist has remained in touch with the Indian culture, traditions, heritage and ethos. In essence, he has embraced two contrasting cultures and merged them to construct a unique vision — his enraptured gaze - through which he revisits his roots, his childhood memories and that transitory world of innocence…

Summing up his philosophy, Sakti Burman has stated: “We are always looking for something which we don’t know. We are always running after that unknown thing. It’s a perpetual search. I’m not someone who is jumping from one thing to another. I am trying to follow a line and trying to go deep within myself because an artist must remain true to his or her instincts and do things he (or she) thinks are the absolute truth.”