Sakti Burman and his young French wife Ratna (Delteil) are now visiting India after a long stay in Paris. Both of them studied art at Ecole Des Beaux-arts there and continue to live in Paris as freelance painters. The environment has been a maturing and enriching experience, challenging because of its immense variety, its opportunity for study and work. Perhaps the presence of multiple trends and isms helps (rather than hinders) an artist to find a path of his own. The rich worlds of the museums are a reservoir of inspiration and the whole atmosphere of the city one that nurtures and enjoys not only the arts but life itself.
Sakti Burman's work has been said by some critics to be reminiscent of Chagall or Dufy or even Marie Laurencin. Strangely he eludes these labels and ends by being simply and consistently himself. For one living in Paris Sakti Burman seems indeed quite uninfluenced by recent fads and fashions. He paints instead a range of themes which are constant and meaningful to him figures of young women amidst trees, still lifes and landscapes all imbued with a certain poetry. His foliage, flowers and girls have the same evanescent beauty and his bowls of fruit or musical instruments convey again only a deep sense of the richness of life. Indeed his theme may be said to be only one -- the earth herself, in her aspect as spring, now budding as leaf or woman, now simply a colour symphony of flower and fruit. Sakti Burman's compositions are not burdened with unpainterly ideas or complexes. He uses the traditional materials of the painter in a modern way. His brushwork is lively and his sensuous colours create a rich tapestry of pure design, without the bravado of modernity.
The appreciation of colour is without doubt this painter's strongest point. Not only is his palette varied and rich but his colours have a vibrant translucency reminiscent of light filtering through a sunlit glade or glowing Gothic church windows. They seem afire, incandescent and in their juxta-positions create a rich and sensuous feast for the eyes. Sakti Burman's use of colour is marked by directness and spontaneity, here are no allusions but a delight in the basic facts of art, colour and form, light and rhythm.
Sakti Burman's drawings or colour sketches have to be described separately. They are in coloured ink on paper and also consist of themes of fantasy. The main arrangement is laid out in delicate washes and over the dampened paper a fine drawing in black ink is traced. The ink spreads its thin spidery fingers into the wet paper making a subsidiary lacy pattern. The whole innovation is elegant, delicate and strikingly original. Indeed the main point to be made about Sakti Burman's art is that he has evolved a style and treatment suited to his themes. The one supports and the other exemplifies the lyrical mood so aptly phrased in his strangely archetypal images.
This is not a summing up of Sakti Burman's work nor even an adequate introduction. For it must be emphasized that this painter now stands at the threshold of a career full of promise. The directions of his art seem clear and so in describing his work we gain only an idea of what we can hope from him. His style returns from the heartless and sordid torment that is often the world of modern art to a world of wonder and grace, of gentle and uncomplicated joys.
The work of Ratna Burman, if related, must be discussed separately. For her vision is one that chooses reality for her point of departure. In an age when the world about us is practically taboo as a subject matter in art Ratna Burman returns to life and glorifies it. Her genre themes are not a description of reality but again only an excuse for rich and scintillating compositions. Ratna Burman paints interiors, with figures, palms and tapestries or still lifes in which the animate and inanimate objects mingle to form a lush and inextricable pattern. Again, as in her husband's work, we are thrilled especially by colour. Ratna Burman's palette is unrestricted. She is able to mingle and combine a galaxy of bright and burning hues. The yellow backgrounds are broken with rich greens and orange and vermilion intervene. Forms are not forms but colour spilling over areas, colours that flow across space or mushroom from the canvas in a tense irridescence. The young girls in her pictures have an innocence as of nature, they are part of a guileless fleeting world momentarily caught but touched by the sadness of change. Her palms and plants grow with the surge of a heightened life enfolded in a golden light, awake and intense. The dappled colour of her forms, the juxtaposition of strong and light, of things seen beyond and through offers link up to make a symphony that is decorative and sensuous. Her paintings are meant to be looked at and enjoyed, they claim no other aim.
Sakti and Ratna Burman have had opportunity to travel widely in India and Europe. Their paintings are exhibited in France, England and the United States. It is a tribute to their oeuvre that in spite of the unaffected subject matter and 'conventional' handling their paintings have always found a discerning audience. In a century obsessed by a search for novelty and the cult of ugliness it is refreshing to return to works that have for their aim values entirely painterly. The meaning of this art is its sense of affirmation, of faith in life which the paintings radiate; their expression leaves one enriched intuitively with hope and joy. Are we able to admit we need them?
Published in Roopa-Lekha, Volume XXXV, No. 1&2