Sakti Burman - In Paris with Love
by Franck Barthelemy
Early September I met Sakti Burman at his Paris studio. He welcomed me to a typical Parisian apartment located in the quiet 15th quarter not too far from the river Seine. There are art works on the walls and on the shelves. I could spot a drawing by Picasso amidst few of his and his wife Maite Delteil's works. On the easel, next to the large window, Sakti was ready to sign his latest production, a meticulously finished large oil on canvas depicting a scene from a dream like village fair, very typical of the artist's style. However, there was something delicately new in it. After a few minutes of wandering into the work, I realized the palette of colours was different from what I know of Sakti's works. The red imposes a new bright note to the work creating a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. And this is probably a place Sakti reached after more than four decades of intense nonstop hard work.
Sakti came from Calcutta to Paris in 1956. The Bidyakut boy left the lively joint family house to explore the world of the arts starting with its capital. What he had in mind before reaching the city was a very romantic image of it, an image forged by 2 or 3 books he managed to get and read in Calcutta and moreover the impressionist paintings he could see during his studies at the Calcutta art college. It was not easy to convince his father and his three brothers to let him go to Paris. So Sakti was determined to prove them that he could learn, become a painter and live out of his art. His first year was tough. He could not afford much. He lived under the roof in one of these Hausmanian buildings on the Boulevard des Italiens, near the opera house. In French, we call it a 'maid's room'. No heater, no running water, a common toilet to share with the neighbours. Though he caught a few colds, Sakti knew he could not go back home without a proper degree from L'Ecole des Beaux Arts. He then focussed as much as he could on his studies. Sakti met Maite. In 1961, he was introduced to the Picadilly Gallery's owners. He remembers he had a good lunch with them in a restaurant, something radically different from the 'restaurant univertaire' (the students' canteen). He had absolutely no idea how to deal with them but at the end of the meal, they bought a few works and took a few on consignment. A few weeks later, they sent him some money. The cycle 'selling, not selling' started. In 1962, Sakti went back to Calcutta to explore opportunities of being an artist in his country. He did two exhibitions and sold two works. His decision was taken : Paris is the place to be. He rushed back there, married Maite, honeymooned in India and came back to Paris. Life was tough, he got a day job for two weeks and quit. Sakti developed his style and universe. He managed to sell some watercolours for a living.
One fine day, his neighbour rang the bell of his small apartment and asked him if he wanted to be introduced to someone from the USA who could probably sell his works there. The artist said yes without thinking twice. He met the gentleman who piked up a few watercolours at a very low price. Sakti was not too happy but had no choice. He had to make a living out of his works. The American gentleman offered him to make more watercolours and promised him he would make more money. The story went on for a few months. Sakti sent dozens of watercolours to the US and started having a more comfortable life. When the business dried off and Sakti stopped hearing from the American buyer another American gentleman asked for him. Sakti met him. He was the end buyer, the one who bought almost all the watercolours sent to the USA. He explained to the artist that if he wanted to make money, he had to mass produce. He had asked Sakti if he could make some lithographies. The artist could not say no. So the American good Samaritan commissioned three editions. That was Sakti first ever signed contract. Sakti rushed to the Ateliers Guillard in Cachan, a suburb of Paris, and met Salinas who showed him how to make them. Sakti remembered vaguely from his college days but Salinas was a precious help. Lithographies were very trendy in the US in the sixties. They sold everything. The lithographies spread Sakti's names very fast and almost all around the world. It helped the artist to make money and gave him the freedom to focus on his oils. And Sakti remembers proudly that one day, he got a phone call from a couple in Alsace. They purchased a lithography by Sakti in the US and now would like to purchase an oil. Later in the seventies, inspired by this success, Sakti agreed to illustrate a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, Hommage à toi, France along with Dali, Fini or Delvaux. He also remembers with emotion a series of lithographies illustrating 16 poems from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1985, Sakti was offered the opportunity to make two lithographies with the French Imprimerie Nationale. They are the last two lithogaphies made by the artist. He admits that he regularly receives offers to make drawings for lithographies but declines softly. Sakti likes working on the stone. If someone else does it, he is not interested. Creating is what motivates him.
Sakti was launched, maybe because of his lithographies. An Italian gallery started showing and selling his works successfully. After 4 or 5 years, a Paris gallery proposed him a contract. He became the gallery's artist exclusively. Sakti found it extremely comfortable and started working with a free mind. No need to worry about how to survive the next day anymore, no need to take the train to Italy to pick up his payment. The success story did not last for more than 4 years. Uncertainty came back to his life until one German friend's friend came home to buy a work. She bought it and went back home. She had it framed. The framer, a gallerist, enquired about Sakti's works. He loved it and started buying and showing Sakti's works in Germany. It seems Sakti always had a lucky star looking after him. Maybe his simplicity helped him to go through the ups and downs. Maybe his kindness led friends and acquaintances to help him. That is the story of his life. The artist has reached a stage of his life where he is happy and proud to be. He joyfully say that he does not need to be rich: 'if I can work, that's all!' With the little extra money he gets from his art, Sakti started discreetly buying some of his own works from galleries and exhibitions. Being a very slow artist, he could never afford to keep any works for him. He had to sell all his production for a living. It is fun listening to him telling me how he tracked down one of his works in Lille. A friend called him in Paris and told him there is a beautiful work of his in a gallery, 200 km away from Paris. Maite and Sakti straight away got train ticket and rushed to the gallery. Anonymously, they entered the gallery and bought the work. Like a jigsaw, Sakti is building up his collection.
Sakti is now working on a large touring retrospective for 2012. He is putting together 150 works that he will show in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The Lalit Kala Akademi will show his works from February 10th, the Jehangir art gallery from March 12th. And last but not least, Sakti will complete the tour with Kolkata in April. Put the dates in your diary. artetc. news & views will remind them to you in due course!