Imagine this. It’s 1994. Maya Burman is unscrewing a barroom mirror with a penknife to create an installation. It was part of her architectural project, that the Ecole d’ Architecture Paris student did while at a workshop in the UK, so she could be excused. Many more such unorthodox methods and a swing towards the path of art later, the frail bespectacled painter with intense eyes left architecture to live and paint in Paris. Maya at 50 is a different person now.
“Now when I think about projects I did in my youth, I realise that I was far removed from the kind of artist I am. I have made peace with the fact that I was always meant to be a painter,” she smiles ruefully. Maya will be part of the upcoming tripartite exhibition with her artist parents Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil. Titled ‘Games of Life’, the show with Art Alive was to be unveiled at Bikaner House in Delhi during the India Art Fair, but got postponed due to Covid.
Maya’s paintings are distinct for the wealth of detail, a passion of colours and shapes with a delicate ethereal feel and strong fantasy elements. There is clever juxtaposition of element and colour as seen in the ‘Dance of Life’ series—a blue and red ball frozen in mid-air against a golden crowd of sunflowers, a girl’s pink foot hovering over an unfolding crimson cloth. The artist’s deliberate control over detail is evident in the careful execution of her art: Maya works slowly and builds up the space, starting out by sketching with pencil on paper, on which she applies ink wash, then come watercolours in layers and the outlines and details are finished in black ink using a pen. Her work is joyful, a creative architecture of arches, pillars and piazzas.
Solo exhibitions with art include Rhapsody, 2014; A Dreamer’s Labyrinth, 2010; and Once Upon A Time, 2007. Maya sees work and life as a ‘meeting ground’ of two cultures and traditions since her father is Indian and her mother is French. “When I told my father that I wanted to be a painter, he was eager to teach me his marbling technique that mixes oil and acrylic paint. But I was drawn towards water colours and ink, which I have used when I was an architect. Later when I wanted to experiment with other mediums, I turned to my mother’s more traditional oil-on-canvas oeuvre,” says Maya who began with ink on paper as an extension of her architectural drawings.
Her style has been termed reminiscent of the French ‘Art Nouveau’ tradition, influenced by the European Middle Age architecture of the country where she lives. The paintings are interlaced with ‘mythical and folk-inspired’ imagery somewhat akin to miniature painting, perhaps influenced by her Indian ancestry. For those who would like to comment on Maya being an art ‘star child’ with both parents so well-known in art circuits, Maya’s art stands with an answer of its own. She has been awarded The Fine Art Association of Sannois Award (1998), the Salon d’Automne Paris Award (2000), and the Watercolours Painting Section Salon de Colombes Award (2001).
How is it working in the age of Covid? “When the virus hit Paris, my family that comprises my husband, son, daughter, and beloved dog (a King James Cocker Spaniel) moved together to the countryside in Southwest France, where we were united with our rabbit and goat! (laughs). It was a blessing in disguise because suddenly I had a lot of time to myself and could paint in my studio for hours without much interruption,” explains Maya who believes in taking her own time to produce her work. “When we got to India last week, we had to quarantine. When Ganapati (my son) wanted to sneak out to meet his friends we had to scare him into staying home. We lied, that he would be arrested,” she laughs.
Maya is certain that she cannot work ‘to order’. “I tell anyone who tries to tell me how to paint, ‘hey, here is the paint and canvas, why don’t you go make your own work’?” she says with her tongue firmly in her cheek. “However, I like to show with my mother in larger spaces and galleries where we are offered the chance to ‘take over the space’, because our art comes from similar concerns. They harmonise well,” elaborates Maya about having held exhibitions with Maite in Mumbai and France. The thing about Maya is that she is not formally trained as an artist, but became one watching her folks at work. She had told an interviewer once, “Because of my parents, I was exposed to art so much that I decided I would never paint. I thought about joining the army, then I took to architecture.” In the end, soldiering on as an artist became her vocation and passion.