Like the proverbial gull that always returns to land after taking a round over the sea, artist and sculptor Jayasri Burman retreats to her comfort zone after taking a round of the entire globe.
Myth is her refuge, allegory her compositions; she lives by fables and strengthens legendary stories in her art. She may go “mad watching colours of Van Gogh” and pay him a tribute (1990-91), she might cry at the Banaras ghats and reproduce the aura in her landscapes and scenery (1980s), move around in Paris, Norway, Cambodia, Venice, Germany and the U.S. and do shows with a different feel (landscapes, laymen and blooms).
But, just like a child preferring the protection of her mother's lap after being cuddled by many, she returns to her roots — the stories of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha, Saraswati, Durga, Lakshmi, Radha and Brahma — that fill her canvases with new colours and energy. “A Mythical Universe”, an exhibition of her latest paintings by Art Alive Gallery, reinforces her homecoming. And for the first time, she has also exhibited her sculptures that further endorse her faith in the scriptures.
Quite akin to Madhubani technique with a strong hold on printmaking style, Jayasri's fairytale works have swans, fish, and birds warming up to her female figures and children. Mythological symbols of lotus and stems branch in and out of the surroundings — the sky, water, earth or forest. Importantly, the stems work as the main link entwining the figures, flora and fauna in her works.
So, why does Jayasri keep coming back to myth and fable? Why doesn't she move out of her signature style and venture into a new arena?
“How can you leave your roots?” she questions back.
“I have been brought up on stories of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. When I was nine, my father would read out these stories of gods and goddesses and cry. I would cry with him. Those stories got entrenched in my heart. As I grew up, the goddesses like Saraswati and Lakshmi became ordinary young girls for me — willing to love and have a family, fly out of the godly presence and play in the forest, flutter in the sky and swim in the river, listen to music, sing and dance.”
Jayasri's detailing is result of her training in printmaking. “During 1979-83, I took to gouache and graphic arts. Bikash Da (Bikash Bhattacharya) saw my works and egged me on to continue with that. When I got the National Award in 1985, I actually realised the importance of continuing with it,” she recalls.
Despite being wounded by personal tragedies, Jayasri continued to work — a phase that ranged from dark works in the 1980s to colourful ones in the late '90s when she visited various countries and art camps, marks her evolution.
“But,” she ponders, “I realised that if you smile, you make others smile, if you cry, you make others sad. So, I decided to make people happy. I started painting after I was through the agony of my pain. It resulted in bright colours in my works that were instilled in my mind from the memories of, say, Van Gogh, to serene Buddha images seen in Cambodia.”
Jayasri owes the peace in her works to the sounds of azaan and chanting of mantras, morning dew, music of raindrops, to her own interest in Rabindra Sangeet. No wonder, Lata Mangeshkar loves her works and Asha Bhosle recently launched her show.
Interestingly, Jaysri wanted to take up sculpture instead of painting. “I learnt sculpture with third year students at the College of Visual Arts in Kolkata, but my parents warned me against it saying, ‘it is heavy and will kill you with its logistics problems,' so I focussed on my paintings. This time I fulfilled my yearning to go back to sculpture in Bangalore.” Her images of Parvati and Ganesh and Saraswati are made in fibre and clay and finished in bronze.
A large part of her show, that she regards as a chronology of her evolution, is mounted at Art Alive till the month end.