A painter and printmaker, Sakti Burman is known for his Surrealist work that employs iconography from Indian and European art. The subjects of his paintings are derived from mythology and Burman’s own life, reflecting the artist’s interest in world-building and storytelling. Burman’s work incorporates not only characters and events from diverse sources, but also the ethos and value systems of various mythologies.
Burman was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His mother passed away when he was a few years old. The family moved to Dibrugarh, Assam in 1943, where his father operated a textile business. Burman showed an inclination towards art from a young age, and made portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, likely based on printed photographs that were circulated at the time.
After some initial resistance from his father, Burman studied painting at the Government School of Art and Crafts, Kolkata between 1951 and 1956. That same year, he then moved to Paris to continue his education at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux-Arts, and continued to work from there after graduating. Burman found a market for his work in Europe, with sales from galleries in Paris and the Piccadilly Gallery in London providing a steady income. He travelled back and forth between Paris and India over the next few years, but initially found very few buyers for his work in India. During this time, he began a relationship with fellow artist Maite Delteil, whom he later married in 1963. In 1971, the couple had a daughter named Maya Burman, who is now also an artist.
In 1958, Burman visited Italy, where he was particularly inspired by Renaissance-era church murals, specifically their texture and the use of tableaux derived from biblical narratives. Many of the fantastical scenes in Burman’s work from the 1970s echo this surface quality and composition. In the years between their wedding and Maya’s birth, Burman and Delteil travelled to historical sites within India, such as the Ajanta Caves, Sanchi, Khajuraho and Konark, where Burman became better acquainted with Indian art history. Much like his exposure to mediaeval European art, this also informed his subject matter and style. Burman’s work often shows chimeric creatures from Western and South Asian mythology as well as those of his own invention, blurring the lines between these source materials. His influences spanned mediaeval and Modernist art, including texts such as the Ramayana and Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. He also frequently incorporated imagery based on his own life — such as conch shells reminiscent of his childhood in Undivided Bengal, or the recurring image of his granddaughter — into his paintings, making them a part of his work’s mythological landscape.
For his paintings, Burman typically used watercolours, as they were easier to carry and handle when travelling. However, he also used other paints and marking techniques, most notably a mix of oil paints and watercolours which he began to use in the 1970s, producing an iridescent marbling effect that became a standard feature of his paintings. As his career progressed, Burman also experimented with a variety of media in addition to paint, and became particularly proficient in lithography and textile design.
Burman’s work has been shown in various solo and group exhibitions, notable among which are the Paris Biennale in 1963, 1965 and 1967; several shows at Piccadilly Gallery and Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai; Belford Museum (1993); Art of Bengal, Past and Present 1850-2000 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai and the Centre for International Modern Art, Kolkata in 2001; Encaptured Gaze at Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi in 2008, and at Jehangir Art Gallery, and Aicon Gallery, New York in 2009; and multiple retrospectives, including The Wonder of it All at Pundole Art Gallery in 2012 and In the Presence of Another Sky, curated by Ranjit Hoskote at NGMA, Mumbai in 2017. Burman received the Prix des Etrangers Award in 1956 and the Knight of the Legion of Honour from the Government of France in 2016.
At the time of writing, Burman lives and works in Paris.
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