Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil, and their special ‘Journey of Love, Faith and Inspiration’ exhibition

Artists Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil’s latest exhibition, Journey of Love, Faith and Inspiration, not only showcases almost 70 years of their art, but also focuses on creations by family and friends

February 23, 2024 12:37 pm | Updated 01:37 pm IST

Maite Delteil’s art

Maite Delteil’s art | Photo Credit: Shaz

“Have I turned 91 or 99?” artist Sakti Burman jokes as he steps into Nayan Naveli Gallery in Greater Kailash with his wife Maite Delteil. It’s his birthday. She lovingly smacks his shoulder and says, “Sakti, you are 91! I don’t know what we will be doing when you are 99.”

The couple, who got married in Paris in 1963 and have made a life out of art, are in a humorous mood at Journey of Love, Faith and Inspiration. The ‘exhibition with a difference’ showcases their work from the early 1950s to 2023.

Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil

Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Many works are not for sale, and will be flown back to their collectors in Paris, but this exhibition is really a tribute to their artistic journey together,” says Amrita Kochhar, curator and founder of the gallery. Interestingly, the group show features not only Sakti and Maite’s work — two rooms have works by their daughter Maya Burman, and artists such as Suman Chandra, Nandan Purkayastha, Ranjeeta Kant and Krishnendu Porel. All of whom have been part of the couple’s artistic career.

As guests mingle at the inauguration, including artists Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Binoy Varghese and Vimmi Indra, conversations ebb and flow about how art runs in the family. While Maya is an artist, her son Ganapathy is learning the ropes. Her cousin is Jayasri Burman, who is married to painter Paresh Maity. Even the Burmans’ cook, Sukhlal, who often follows them around with a sketchbook, has had a solo show in the very gallery we are in today.

Sakti Burman’s marbling fresco effect

Sakti Burman’s marbling fresco effect | Photo Credit: Shaz

Matching the realistic and surreal

I first met Sakti in the early 2000s, when he returned to India and mounted a fairly ambitious exhibition, in his ‘marbling fresco’ style, at Art Musings in Mumbai. He told me about his wife who also paints, and how excited he was to show her the country. When I later met Maite, she was quite reserved; it’s been interesting to observe how, over the years, she’s become more outgoing while Sakti has grown quieter.

“The exhibition is not conventional,” Maite tells me. “It brings together the artworks done by Sakti and me when we were students in Paris [at the École des Beaux-Arts] way back in 1956. We have been working together for many years — we did the same portraits, studied the same landscapes — and we wanted to show that.”

She adds that if you observe the works, you can see how Sakti never attempted to do “realistic work’, while she tried to study the subjects in a more academic manner. “Then I went on to embrace a Surrealist style,” she says, pointing to a colourful depiction of a woman wrapped in leaves and flowers, and surrounded by butterflies. Her current works still depict nature in a lush, vivid manner.

Work by Maite Delteil

Work by Maite Delteil | Photo Credit: Shaz

We make our way through the gallery, past pen-and-ink sketches by Sakti, and early portraits, to stop in front of the study of a boat on water from the 1950s. Done in blues and earth, it is strikingly realistic. Sakti, who says he is influenced by Indian miniature art, Kalighat paintings and the European masters, hit it big internationally with his marbling fresco style, which mixed acrylic with oil. “Described as the ‘Alchemist of Dreams’, Sakti skilfully blends the Italian classical style with Ajanta cave murals, to create a world of fantasy, fable and poetry,” shares Amina Okada, conservator of Musée Guimet in Paris.

A painting by Sakti Burman

A painting by Sakti Burman | Photo Credit: Shaz

“Through Sakti’s work, one can witness how he combines the varied sensibilities of Indian and French aesthetics — becoming a confluence of both. Maite’s lyrical imagery takes one to the French gardens of her childhood. They are woven into an intricate visual language that captures the vivacity of her practice.”Sunaina AnandDirector, Art Alive

Same but different

The exhibition includes a set of illustrations that Maite did for Satyajit Ray’s book Phatik Chand in the 1980s. The rough sketches were later developed into fine drawings, and have been displayed together after almost two decades.

Some works of the duo have also been framed together — where they paid tributes to artists such as Titian, Botticelli, Da Vinci and Rembrandt, by rendering the masters’ subjects in their own style.

Sakti and Maite beside one of her paintings 

Sakti and Maite beside one of her paintings  | Photo Credit: Courtesy Art Alive Gallery

Meanwhile, Sakti asks us to check out the documentaries by Joy Banerjee: Ballad with Sakti and Maite Enchanted. The films capture the painters at work, slices of their daily life and with the community of Bengalis living in Paris. Banerjee, the son of a family friend, brought his intimate knowledge of the two artists to his work, and the films will be played once a week during the exhibition.

The exhibition is on till March 1.

The writer is a critic-curator by day, and a visual artist by night.

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