September 8, 2021 8:30:34 pm
Your ongoing exhibition at Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery features works from the ’60s and ’70s. Is it nostalgic for you?
Three years ago, gallerists with whom I regularly work visited me in my country house in France. They were enamoured by the old paintings on the walls and the attic and proposed to exhibit them in India. My first exhibition in the country was in Kolkata in December 1964, followed by Delhi in January 1965, where I exhibited works from the ’50s and early ’60s. My works from the ’60s and ’70s were only shown in Delhi in 2019 and Mumbai in 2018, respectively. Since they garnered interest among the audience, we decided to show them again despite the sullen atmosphere of Covid-19. I would describe it as an enlightening experience. Through the viewers and their questions, I am seeing my old works in a new light. It has helped me understand my own feelings better and also how I have evolved as an artist.
Could you share the memories associated with some of these works? The display features a range, from nudes to a mother feeding her child as well as still-life.
My works reflect a little bit of my life everywhere. Through my nudes, I express my inner feminine side. When I was growing up in the French countryside, I was surrounded by nature and greenery. The still-life paintings and flora and fauna are largely inspired by my memories of the same. As for the mother feeding her child, I had my first child in 1965. I feel, in a subconscious way, all my memories have found their way to my works and they are reflections of my being.
In 1963, you married Sakti Burman despite opposition from your family. Did that period of personal distress also reflect in your works?
The decision affected my work but in an unconscious manner. During my show at Art Alive Gallery in 2019, many viewers asked me, why did I paint only women, the single figure of a lady who was pensive or melancholic? Over time, I realised those were my feelings during the time that had subconsciously seeped into the essence of my works. The paintings themselves are happy paintings owing to the vibrant colours they comprise, yet the melancholic feeling I was harbouring at the time somehow reflected in the works. You could also say the works reflected both my loneliness and my power. I realised I alone could solve all my problems.
In the last few decades, you and Sakti Burman have been shuttling between India and France. Do you see any influences of the two cultures in your work?
I feel that is inevitable. I have always been influenced by Indian miniatures. Sakti and I have made a lot of artworks together, we have worked side by side, travelled together, worked on the same subject and yet have had varied aesthetics. We still work together, almost every day, with our individual feelings and our background, even though we belonged to different cultures. In fact, we feel we have connected through our cultures to an extent that France is a second homeland for Sakti and India has become my second homeland.
Do you also discuss art at home? Your daughter Maya is also an artist. Has there been a deliberate effort towards forming a distinct artistic vocabulary?
Art is our primary joint interest in life and we discuss it often. Nowadays, Maya cannot come to see us in India, so we discuss art regularly over video call. We also exchange photos of our works. Maya often says we astonish her with the works we are doing even at the age of 88. We haven’t deliberately worked on a distinct artistic vocabulary but the three of us are very different characters and that gets reflected in our art as well.
Did the experience of the pandemic also influence your art practice? What have you been painting in recent months?
I don’t think the pandemic has had any influence on our art practice per se. At this age, we don’t step out a lot and are accustomed to working in our home studio. We also have the habit of buying and keeping a good stock of painting essentials like pencils, oil paints, canvases, papers, paints etc, so we didn’t face a lot of trouble with regard to our artistic practice. In fact, I have been working for upcoming shows and we are preparing for a first collaborative exhibition, where I will be showing with Sakti Burman and Maya in January at Art Alive Gallery in Delhi. Despite the pandemic, art has given us hope and life is going on.
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