“I sometimes wonder what it would be like if one somehow cast all Sakti's work into the same format, join one segment to the next, and turn it into one long, unending scroll. And then spread it out, and see it: His floating world. I think one would sense a lyrical stream running through it: Of poetry, of tenderness, above all of vismaya , that elevating sense of wonder that our texts speak of,” eminent art historian B.N. Goswami signs off The Wonder of It All , an essay on Sakti Burman.
Goswami's ode to the artist opens the 355-page coffee-table book The Wonder of It All on the artist. The release of the book, jointly published by Pundole Art Gallery and Apparao Galleries, coincided with the just concluded retrospective of Sakti Burman in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
The volume has come not a day too soon. Here is a body of work that has spanned for over six decades. Work inspired and often influenced by the greats of the time — Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque. Work, that gradually comes in its own — in the subjects the artist dwells upon and the techniques he employs.
Sakti Burman's auteur straddles two distinct sensibilities of the East and the West; the collective memory of Bengali-Indian childhood and early youth and the accumulated experience of his long stay in Paris, many travels around Europe and, in no small measure one should add, by his friendship and later marriage to Maïté, an artist in her own right.
Sakti Burman readily admits this. “After two or three years of studying art in Paris, I visited Florence with my girlfriend who was later to become my wife. My knowledge of the history of art was limited but she was very well informed (in this). I learnt a lot about art through these travels,” he said in an interview once. The book tells us how Sakti remembers liking Maïté's paintings much before meeting her.
Writer Kishore Singh's lovingly penned piece “All Aboard the Ark” of Shakti Burman's Dreamworld gives a fairly good idea of the artist's personal and professional journey. Singh pieces together the many vignettes of life that make Sakti Burman and his art what it is today. It is a ringside view of the artist as he goes about his business in his winter home in Delhi and the summer one in France. It is here that Singh draws the reader's attention to the fact that though Sakti Burman's canvases are often peopled by friends and family and the artist included, there is never a glimpse of a young Sakti or his mother or father — the mother he lost to kidney failure when he was barely three, and father who was mostly away.
In Sakti Burman's canvas, an Indian sadhu , draped in a loin cloth and playing a harmonium, shares space with a bikini-clad lady, and also cohabits with other residents of a French village. Or Krishna plays the flute in a European park with relaxing western figures. Or Goddess Durga and the three Graces of Greek mythology, both hold an enduring fascination for the artist, coexist as if it was most natural.
Reality into fantasy
There is a dreamlike quality to Sakti Burman's work as Mrinal Ghosh mentions in the essay “Sakti Burman: His Watercolours”, “There is pain and pathos submerged in his works but ultimately they transcend towards dream of resurrection. He converts reality into fantasy; very often that fantasy slips towards surrealism.”
The artist himself explains his work in this volume: “In my painting, everything originates from the real to give an impression of somewhere and nowhere.”
Elsewhere, in The Wonder of It All Burman explains — thinks aloud more like it — why the birds populate his canvases or why the conch shell appears on his son Nobu's head and on that of so many others in his paintings. All along, though, the purpose of Burman's art is to please the senses. He is happy if people derive joy out of his works. And it is this joie de vivre that Burman's figures exude that lingers on in the observer's mind after seeing his works.
Singh deftly steers the artist's nostalgic meanderings to sketch the evolution of the latter's art through the 50s and 60s and then in the 70s when, as Singh notes, Sakti Burman found his stride. To quote Sakti Burman's words “a drop of water fell on a passage of thick wash. Instantly, the pigment layer broke into hundreds of tiny particles creating a surface of marvelous iridescent texture.” Sakti Burman had found the answer to creating mural-like marbling effect that became the hallmark of his work.
The coffee-table book contains plates of many of the artist's works — oils, pastels, watercolours, sculptures, drawings and lithograph prints. In addition, there are photographs — a testimony of a life being lived to the full. In particular is a black-and-white picture of laughing Burman with a pigeon perched on his head, something that could well belong to his canvas.
This book is a fitting tribute to this multi-faceted artist and his oeuvre.