I have always loved the circus: Sakti Burman

Multiple characters pull the narrative: Sakti Burman’s “Two Horses”

Multiple characters pull the narrative: Sakti Burman’s “Two Horses”  


For Sakti Burman, art is a way to present reality with a dash of imagination

Sakti Burman, the alchemist of dreams unravels 66 years of work at New Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery with drawings, sketches, and watercolours. It draws you into a trance that permeates your senses. The Paris-based artist’s oeuvre flits through orchestration of ephemeral and evanescent encounters with sylph-like figures floating between realms of metaphoric and material transcendence. He presents insights into his tumultuous years.

I have always loved the circus: Sakti Burman


Let’s begin at the genesis, the frescoes of Pompeii, the narrative of Naples. It’s as if Greek and Roman fables have fed your fantasy for more than six decades.

Absolutely, at the end of the day, I have always been a storyteller. And Pompeii has been my all-time inspiration. I find that story unforgettable in every way. I love to visit Pompeii and Naples, I love to see the paintings again and again. The history of Roman painting is almost entirely dominated by these durable frescoes. It never pales, never fades.

Pompeii is also about the great orator Cicero, and the fine poet Virgil. So many images come fleeting back in memory. Is art then more about the imagination as well as what feeds your fantasy in terms of literature?

Indeed nothing in the art can move if we don’t have imagination. When I create my watercolours and drawings, I’m going back in time and bringing it forward to the present. The stories that I see, that I experience, the stories in my memory, each event serves to freeze a moment in the past. I love the beauty of history and memory overlapping in my mind. I think of the perfectly preserved ruins – petrified over the centuries. For me, as an artist, it offers the world’s most complete picture of ancient Roman life.

And characters and poets like Virgil and the great writer Cicero are always there in my mind. For me, painting and literature go hand in hand. I remember a few years back requesting the famous poet Sunil Gangopadhyay to write about my work. It was an honour. I consider writing a high form of art.

What about the many characters that have always been part of your alchemy of dreams. It’s as if you are mixing the real and the unreal – the clowns, the human figures with the crowns, the bird-like hybrid humans. Each individual seems to float in the archive of your multiple moorings.

I have always loved the circus. The clowns play an important part in my creations because they are a symbol of dark comedy. They stand for a satire that is more poetic than political. It is their sadness through the veil of comedy that has always touched me. Art, for me, was always about trying to express some kind of reality mixed with what is unreal, a dreamlike sequence. The events you see are a result of juxtapositions within my subconscious, my cultural fabric, and my reality. Within the contradiction and the ironies, it becomes a paradox of connection and disconnection through patterns of familiarity.

Your early works have a realist mooring, like Kashmir and Bhubaneswar, as if belonging to differential notes of being. From this you moved into the floating feathery figures...are you leading viewers into an auratic element of enchantment?

I have always felt that my stories need to be told. The characters come and go. It’s like playing through many acts and scenes-and being the playwright of a garden of earthly delights. Sometimes, I’m speculating, sometimes I’m finding a sequence, but it's always about the realms of human figures – they are part and parcel of my fabulous tales.

My childhood memories were mixed up with existing realities. For me, my art can be creative only if my memory is fertile. My coupling past and present through my tapestry of memories is what sustains my repertoire of reflections.

Equally enticing are your placement of figures and hybrid bird-like forms as if in an allegorical epiphany of tones and tenors. How does Hanuman fit in with the Centaur?

I paint people. I capture the expression and emotion of humans, sometimes they are not so manly nor womanly, but they are beautiful as they are. My characters go through their griefs but they are also full of hope. Ultimately, hope is the only thing you can hold on to and continue living. It’s this optimism that I bring to the fore in my work, underlining the positive side of life – the crown is that symbol. I am always in close communion with my painterly world, that is why even if I’m at the airport or on a train I keep drawing all the time.

Mine is an eternal quest for the line, in my search for the indefinable the line is what keeps me living. Hanuman and the Centaur, the East and the West, it becomes a confluence of many conversations. My drawings are about a practice that revolves around recreating and recasting my idea of the existence of humanity at different spaces, places and times.

Ancient history, mythology, and personal history, everything must merge and that is why tradition and modernity both play a role for me. I have always tried to follow a line to find that inward journey because an artist must remain true to his or her instincts and find the absolute truth within the intuitive.

An untitled work

An untitled work  

(The exhibition continues at Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi, until October 30)

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 10:27:39 AM |

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