For the next few weeks, the walls of the National Gallery of Modern Art will be filled with the works that are best described as dreamlike. Sakti Burman, now 84, gets a long overdue retrospective titled In the Presence of Another Sky – a show that surveys his output across nearly six decades.“The viewer who does not already know Sakti Burman’s work can look forward to being immersed in the magical universe of an artist who is by turns an enchanter, a mythologist, a storyteller, an archaeologist of memory, and an architect of dreams,” says art critic Ranjit Hoskote, who has curated the exhibition. The show features nearly 250 works, from his earliest paintings as a 15-year-old in the 1950s to works he created last year.Burman’s works bear witness to the versatile, capacious and cosmopolitan imagination of the artist over seven decades. Calcutta-born Burman left for Paris in 1956 to explore the world of art, armed with a nothing more than a degree from the local art college and a few books he’d read about Paris. He eked out an existence in maids’ quarters as he pursued lessons at the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris and visited Italy. He also spent some time in Bombay.
“An artist belongs to the society, his past, present and how he perceives the future,” says Burman. The show, he says will remind him of his “early days of being a struggling artist,” and how the culture and environment of the three cities have affected him.
His style reminds viewers of frescoes, they feature techniques such as pointillism, impressionism and marbling, but with a refreshing optimising in almost every work. There are echoes of Pompeii murals, Kalighat paintings, Indian myths and Mughal miniatures.
There will be much to see at the show. Hoskote says he doesn’t want to give away all the surprises. But there are paintings, as well as suites of drawings, lithographs, and travel sketchbooks. “For me, one of the high points in the retrospective is the exquisite suite of lithographs that Burman produced for a limited edition of Tagore’s Gitanjali in the writer André Gide’s French translation,’ he says. “We have also drawn into the exhibition, from private collections and the artist’s own collection in France, an extraordinary number of works from Burman’s early period, from the 1960s, which have rarely been viewed in India.”