In the 1940s and ’50s, when Kolkata-born Sakti Burman went to art school in France, abstract art was all the rage. Most were into it, others wanted to get into it. He too jumped onto the bandwagon, only to fail miserably at expressing himself sufficiently within the means of the style.
“I tried to take it up in school, but I couldn’t. It just wasn’t happening,” says Burman, on his attempt. “I can’t see myself doing the kind of technical work that others may be capable of. I prefer to work with my own hands. That way, I express sentiment better.” Sure enough, Burman returned to what he was most comfortable with.
View his works titled Dreamland, which are currently on display in the city, and you know just how different his style really is. The French and Italian influences are evident. The paintings are meant to transport the viewer into a dream-like world, one that is interspersed with medieval and religious icons, childhood memories and symbols that Burman has come across during the course of his travels.
Burman is an exponent of pointillism, probably the best our country has. It’s the impact of his schooling in France, and the artist is a master at using myriad hues to fill up every inch of the canvas. An extended stint in Italy has yielded his trademark weather-beaten frescoes. The colours give the viewer an impression of faded, lost glory.
Ask him why he paints about dreams, Burman points back to his childhood and growing up in pre-Independence Bangladesh. “I like to dream. I was brought up like that. My mother passed away early and I was a lonely child. There were moments of solitude from that atmosphere that have stayed back,” he says.
Burman also credits stories and folklore for inspiring him. One legend that has stayed with him is Pandora’s forbidden box, which yielded everything but hope, when opened.
“Earlier, I knew the story, but not what it symbolised,” says Burman, adding, “Hope plays a very important role in the life of an artist. We all struggle to get where we are. So, I like doing work that is hopeful, which gives me back my innocence and a certain contentment.”
Burman also rules out plans of moving back home, close on the heels of SH Raza, whose works are being displayed as part of the same exhibition. “We’re both old and have always had contact with our motherland, but he’s come back because he was very keen to. Not that I wasn’t, but my family is in France and I travel to and fro frequently. I have a space here, which I come back to. It’s a home, not a hotel,” he smiles.