KATHMANDU: Some time ago, we had invited the Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad to our group exhibition. And over tea he talked about his fond memories of the legendary Indian artist Sakti Burman. I had been following Mr Burman’s work for a long time and when I realised Mr Prasad was such good friends with the artist, I had asked him if we could invite him to Nepal. I did this with hardly any hope because Mr Burman is a colossal figure in the Indian art world and he spends most of his time in Paris.
So it was shocking but wonderful surprise when I got a call from The Indian Embassy on April 23 morning when I was informed that Mr Sakti Burman had arrived in Nepal on invitation of The Indian Embassy and BP Koirala India Nepal Foundation and that he would be giving a talk at Yak and Yeti the same evening. He had been travelling in major cities in India along with his retrospective exhibition ‘The Wonder of it All’. The Embassy also asked me if I would compere the event and introduce the artist. I agreed instantly.
Mr Burman arrived punctually along with the Indian Ambassador Mr Prasad at 6:30 pm. You just knew it when you saw him that the artist was kind and very down to earth. As he shook hands with everybody, he made sure he had something to say to each.
Born in 1935 in Kolkata, Burman was brought up in what is now Bangladesh. Today he is one of the most prominent Indian painters. Though he has been living in France for the last five decades, he has shared with the world the richness of the South Asian traditions, cultures, myths, stories and characters of our religious epics.
And he does that in his own joyous ways. When you look at his paintings, you are drawn straight into his world where the conscious meets the sub-conscious and reality fuses with surreal motifs. Over the years, Burman has realised that a painting — at the end of the day — is a genre in visual arts, so each of his paintings is a visual delight.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, if his paintings could be described in a word — they are ‘beautiful’. Beautiful in colours, the richness of textures, and poetic interpretations of humans, deities, animals and birds. This catalyses the visual senses but this is just the beginning. You are sucked into the painting to share with the artist, his narratives, his nostalgic recollections and messages.
Art is always created out of situations, which could be political situations, social situations or personal situations. Burman living in Paris has painted people of the western land along with deities and people of his country, animals, birds and mythical creatures — and all of them live together in harmony in his canvases. Every painting by Burman has so many things happening in it, and yet all of them come to a focal point — tranquility. One moment the elements in his work are buzzing with emotions, and then you look at them again and they have this blissful silence.
Among the many things I admire about the artist, perhaps the one quality I love about him is his hard work. Despite his huge success in the art world, and with his authority (he could get away with anything today when creating an art piece), he still spends a lot of time on his paintings — painstakingly creating his magical texture and his poetic figurative forms. A total labour of love.
At the talk, Mr Burman spoke about his early days when he was a student and when being an artist was not recommended by most. He narrated a story when as a young student, he along with some friends had gone out to the slums for some outdoor painting. They had begun painting and a little later, nearby, a mother scolded and punished her child for some misdeed and pointing at the young Burman and friends she said, “If you don’t study, you will be like them!”
Mr Burman also talked about his youth and days in Paris. He mentioned how he accidently discovered the way to create textures. It happened one day after dinner when he was helping his wife do the dishes. Trying to get the grease off the plates, he saw that oil and water didn’t mix. He used this to later invent the texture he uses all the time in his works and is celebrated for.
The artist shared with the audience — slides of his paintings in water colours and oils and his candid and fluent drawings. After his talk and presentation, he spent a long time signing autographs for his fans where he also generously made quick drawings for them.
This beautiful evening with the legendary artist at the Yak and Yeti will be cherished for a long time by the artists and art lovers who were present there.
Chirag Bangdel is an artist and a writer