Grey between the colours:  Explore the power of contrast with Jayasri Burman’s recent exhibition

Rural West Bengal manifests in her art, just as it dies in Maity’s and Sakti’s
Jayasri Burman
Jayasri Burman

Step inside artist Jayasri Burman’s canvas and you are surrounded by fables and folk tales, myth and magic, rituals and festivals. The colour palette is bold and robust with traces of Madhubani, pattachitra, miniature art and printmaking styles. 

“I like to layer my work. The basics of printmaking I learned from Monsieur Ceizerzi in Paris, Paul Lingren and Krishna Reddy have stayed with me you start with the drawing, apply the tint, draw with the needle, put it in the acid, apply the first bite, use glue to hold the image and then the second bite. I use the same layering process in my art,” she says.

Burman’s works in the ongoing exhibition, Dhara, which began as a part of the now-concluding Mumbai Gallery Weekend, mark a deviation from her conventional colour palette of rich nature tones and veer towards the monochromatic. The artist, who maintains “colour is very important to me”, has used terracotta or laterite colours of rust and brown this time. In spite of vibrant shades such as ‘Prussian blue’, the overall effect has a dark quality, giving the colours a grey hue. “My reason for choosing such a colour scheme was to bring out the aabha (aura) in the images. It’s like stepping from the dark into the light,” Burman explains. 

“With every exhibition, I feel like I’m giving birth all over again. The pain, the gestation, the anticipation, the contentment… they are all part of the process of bringing something to life. Along the way, there are missteps and falls too and then it all bubbles up like a volcano coming to life after laying dormant for ages,” says the 63-year-old yin to Paresh Maity’s yang; together they make one of India’s power couples of art. Burman is also the niece of Sakti Burman, the éminence grise of the Indian creative world.

The sacred feminine makes its presence felt in Dhara as the ecosystem or the chakra of life that “guides my hand. What Nature has given us is something that is pure. This purity is what I want to bring to my canvas. Nature is an unstoppable force. 

Can you stop the storm? Can you change the course of the river? My paintings aim to portray this undiluted form,” says Burman. Her North Star is Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Merging with Nature and divinity is the image of the artist’s mother a continuous presence in her works. “She was the epitome of the ‘giving sacred mother figure’ in my life, effortlessly taking care of a big joint family of 40-odd members,” Burman confesses, adding that the female forms in her work tend to have long curly tresses as a tribute to her mother. Not to mention her own. 

Rural West Bengal manifests in her art, just as it dies in Maity’s and Sakti’s. The families are close; that variations of perceptions about the landscape of belonging differ within shared bonds affirms the multiplicity of artistic sensibility.  “The imagery will always hark back to your roots. It will show up in some form or the other: colours, figures, expressions or more. I always wanted to bring the richness of my cultural heritage on my palette—the divinity on my canvas is the story of the extended family I grew up with,” the artist says.

Travel has also shaped her canvas. After graduating from Shantiniketan and the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata, Burman embarked on a solo trip, a sort of self-discovery. Since then she hasn’t stopped. “My travels give life to my art,” she gives her characteristic wide laugh. Art is a voyage within, for the artist and the viewer. Dhara is the latest travelogue.

When & Where
Dhara; Art Musings, Mumbai
Till February 28

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