“It’s not like I have made it my business to draw happiness,” said artist Maya Burman. “I don’t have a specific theme in mind when I paint, but I have no personal reasons to be cynical and I have been told that people do tend to see a certain joy in my works.”
The 46-year-old artist was standing at the Gallerie Ganesha in Delhi surrounded by her works. The title of Burman’s exhibition, currently on display at Triveni Kala Sangam, reflects the mood of her works – Joie De Vivre, or the joy of living.
Most of Burman’s works depict pastoral scenes dominated by trees and figures of children, regular and miniature with a fantasy element. “But it’s not like I’m trying to draw fairy tales,” she clarified.
“I’m not a naive person,” she said. “I don’t expect humanity to become a Garden of Eden. And I find it is important and very difficult to bring the feeling of joy to people. And perhaps, even to myself first. My painting is not contemplative, neither meditative. There are a lot of dynamics to it.”
The Paris-based artist has never had any formal training in art but growing up as the daughter of acclaimed artist Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil was training of a kind. “I was a rebel, you see,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. When it came to a formal education, Burman chose architecture which had an element of art, but was disappointed by the logistical constraints of budgets, where the toilets would go and other sundry details. “I had my parents to give me direction,” said Burman. “It was an informal training with dialogue more than a technical approach. We discussed more about what is painting and why one should paint. But it was 24/7 training. They didn’t show me the technical aspects. As it is, we don’t have any similarity in our techniques. It was more a question of observation, and learning from observation.”
However, Burman’s training in architecture shows everywhere on her canvas. It exists in her approach to how she composes a painting, the process similar to constructing a building. It can also be seen in how she balances her frame. In her work titled Carpet of Flowers, the frame is balanced on each side. “To me, it wouldn’t look right if there was some empty space on the left side of the frame while there were design elements on the right,” she said.
According to Burman, France influences her work in many ways. “I work with a lot of detail and pattern and that can be linked to Indian miniatures,” she said. “I think I’m curious. I like to be surprised by unexpected things. All those experiences are getting melted in my work. My work is like a theatre, with a lot of characters moving everywhere. I also see my work as journey of life, where nothing is static, hence there is no central figure, all details are important in their own way.”
Consequently, her works often have a tapestry like effect with heavy patterning that is reminiscent of the French art nouveau tradition of geometric and floral work, along with elements of European architecture that she sees around her while travelling.
Her works boast mythical and folk imagery, but one will never see Indian motifs in her works stemming from her ancestry. “My cousin, artist Jayasri Burman, puts mythology in her works, but I’m not interested in those themes,” said Burman. “I paint what I know. My works are figurative and you can put your own imagination at work. It is your feeling that will be working when you look at the painting. As far as the feeling of joy in my painting goes, it might be because of the colours and the fact that the faces aren’t contorted, for example, in the German expressionist way.”
In one of her paintings, Nights and Days, the everyday cycle of wakefulness and sleep is represented in a circular image. This simple act of life radiates from a centre of merrymaking, with children playing with each other, which seems to be the central theme of many of Burman’s works. In some, the children play in paper boats, some pick flowers, some put together a puzzle made using pebbles and all look like they are a party of some idyllic wonderland.
“It’s not a cold allegorical image of joie de vivre,” said Burman. “I try to show the small joys that we all have in everyday life.”
Joie De Vivre is on at the Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi, till November 13 and continues at Gallerie Ganesha, Delhi, from November 16 to December 7.